Can you believe it’s been 25 years since that magical* 1994 season, when Penn State football last went undefeated? To commemorate the silver anniversary of that season, we decided to hold a pair of roundtables. Look for the second roundtable to drop on Friday.
Today, we discuss our favorite players of which by golly, there are no shortage of candidates: Ki-Jana Carter? Kerry Collins? Bobby Engram? Kyle Brady? I realize I just named all offensive players, which is to be expected, since that was arguably the greatest offense ever assembled in program history. We did have a defensive player mentioned however, as you will see in the discussion below.
* despite the fact PSU got royally hosed by not being named a co-national champion along with Nebraska
I’ll kick things off by saying that Kerry Collins was 10-year-old Tim’s favorite player to watch. I think I’ve always been drawn to quarterbacks, especially those who possess the rare combination of great physical tools as well as leadership ability. Those skills of his certainly came into fruition when PSU needed late touchdown drives to grit out road wins at Michigan and Illinois, as he slung the ball to his bevy of receiving weapons with surgical precision, making it seem as easy as you or I playing QB in a game of backyard football. It’s no wonder he was a Heisman finalist alongside his teammate, Ki-Jana.
As for the rest of our participants, here are their choices replete with rationale:
Lando: Bobby Engram
Since I didn’t watch the ‘94 team live (my family started taking me to games in ‘95), I’ll go with the player I remember enjoying the most the next season-and who probably gets a little less love that Kerry Collins, Kyle Brady, and Ki-Jana Carter: Wide receiver Bobby Engram. Engram was the nation’s best receiver that season, winning the inaugural Biletnikoff Award with over 1,000 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. He had an even better year in 1995, showing his value to both Collins and Wally Richardson. Engram enjoyed a lengthy NFL career, and is now a TE coach for the Ravens.
Jared: Ki-Jana Carter
My apologies for the unoriginal response, but 12 year-old Jared was all about that running back with the funny name who would plow through defenders, and more often than not, simply race right past them. The ‘94 season coincided with my first year of playing organized football, which made me appreciate Carter’s greatness even more. I learned something very interesting once the pads came out- playing football is hard! It wasn’t quite like what you saw on TV or playing in the backyard with your friends. It’s just not as simple as taking a handoff or snaring a short pass and running untouched to the end zone (also, having 11 guys charging at you took a little getting used to).
Carter was a joy to watch. Not only was he the most talented player in the nation, you just never knew when he would strike. It was appointment viewing, and long before the days of DVR, you made darn sure you were back from the bathroom or refrigerator in time to watch every snap. He was a once-in-a-generation talent, and would have walked away with the Heisman had it not been for Kerry Collins also being a legit contender and splitting the vote. At a time in my life when anyone wearing a Nittany Lions jersey was a larger-than-life being, Carter stood taller than the rest.
Chris Taylor: Kim Herring
Brian Milne and Jon Wittman were two fullbacks that went on to play in the NFL. It was fun watching the two of them lead the way through the holes, which were often large considering the offensive line on the team was great. The platooning fullbacks also combined to score 14 touchdowns, so they were not just glorified lineman. Ki-Jana Carter, Mike Archie and Stephen Pitts all benefited from the blocking prowess, combining for 2,000 yards rushing behind it. The passing game led by Kyle Brady, Kerry Collins, Bobby Engram and Freddy Scott was one of the best aerial attacks in program history, considering the type of offense PSU was running, not a modern style.
But, I’ve always been a defense-oriented kind of guy. Kim Herring played safety during the 1994 season after playing in 11 games at running back as a freshman. As was noted, the backfield was stacked, so the move to defense worked out well for Herring. He intercepted two passes in 1994 when we began to see what type of player he would become. Herring picked off 11 more passes in the next two seasons to finish with 13 for his career. He was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, the first season for the return of football to the great city of Baltimore. He could play both safety positions at the college and pro level and though he had success in stopping the pass, he was great at making tackles as well. He was one of the best all-around Penn State safeties that I can recall, and it was fun to watch his range and playmaking skills.
Adam: Kyle Brady
When I go back and watch games from ‘94 now, there’s no question that Ki-Jana Carter is the best player on the field - the most dynamic and explosive, a human highlight reel. But 10-year old Adam Collyer didn’t care about that in the mid-90s, because his favorite player was Kyle Brady.
One of our esteemed editors referred to Brady as “College Gronk”, which is just perfect. Everything about Brady was massive, and I’ll always remember him as a guy who just made plays when they needed to be made. Here’s what’s fascinating - he only caught 27 passes as a senior. Each of them mattered, but in today’s game (both college and pro), a reliable, athletic pass catcher at tight end is a game changer. Brady was just a few years ahead of his time.
I could swear that there was once a Kyle Brady commercial that parodied the Brady Bunch, maybe for 1-800-Collect? I tried desperately to find it to link here, but, alas, even YouTube has limits. Still, here’s the story of Kyle Brady, who had the misfortune of being drafted before Warren Sapp. I’d still take him in the Jets today.
Cari: Kerry Collins
It’s gotta be Kerry Collins. I know plenty of folks who have stories to tell about his less than stellar off-field behavior, but on the field, Collins drove that team, with the best college football offense in the sport’s history. Ki-Jana Carter and Kyle Brady were deserved in all of their accolades, but without a quarterback of Collins’ caliber, the stats are far less gaudy. There’s a reason why he lasted so long in the NFL.