Blue White Illustrated

December 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 59 of 67

6 0 D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 3 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M ONE OF A KIND Half a century after claiming college football's top individual honor, John Cappelletti remains PSU's lone Heisman Trophy winner O f the 86 Heisman Trophies that have been bestowed since Uni- versity of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger received the first award in 1935, only one has gone to a Penn State player. As even the most casual Nittany Lion fan knows, that player is running back John Cappelletti, who collected the honor 50 years ago after rushing for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns during the Nittany Lions' 1973 season. That the Lions have only once seen one of their own take home college foot- ball's most prestigious individual award is perplexing from a purely statistical perspective. Between them, the 10 win- ningest FBS programs (Penn State ranks eighth) have combined to produce 44 Heisman winners. USC has claimed eight Heisman Trophies. Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma have won seven apiece, while Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Texas and Georgia have all won two or more. A few other Penn State players have come close over the years. Quarterbacks Richie Lucas (1959) and Chuck Fusina (1978) and running back Ki-Jana Carter (1994) all finished second in the Heis- man balloting, while running back Larry Johnson Jr. was third in 2002. But Cap- pelletti remains the Lions' lone winner, and he will retain that distinction for one more year at minimum, since Penn State is not on track to be represented when the finalists for this year's award gather in New York on Dec. 9 for the an- nouncement of the 2023 winner. Late-Season Surge Cappelletti started out as a defensive back at Penn State because he wasn't going to get any carries in a backfield that boasted Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris. He had been a talented two-way player at Monsignor Bonner High in Upper Darby, Pa., though, and when he switched to offense as a junior, Cappel- letti was an immediate success, rushing for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. That performance, only the third 1,000-yard season in school history, set the stage for a spectacular senior cam- paign in which he surged to the front M AT T H E R B | M AT T. H E R B @ O N 3 . C O M With family members and former Penn State teammates by his side, Cappelletti had his famed No. 22 jersey officially retired by the university during the Nittany Lions' home opener in 2013. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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