Penn State

Franco Harris 
(Authentic Reproduction)





The first draft choice of the Steelers and NFL Rookie Of The Year in 1972, Franco Harris was a front-page personality in the NFL but many feel his collegiate accomplishments were somewhat overshadowed at Penn State by the talent of his backfield partner, Lydell Mitchell. Never one to seek center stage, the somewhat reticent Harris at 6'2" and 230 pounds was the fastest player on the Penn State squad and as much as anyone else, propelled them to their 11-0 and 11-1 seasons during his sophomore and senior seasons. A vicious blocker for Mitchell, he entered Penn State from Rancocas Valley Regional H.S. in New Jersey, as one of the top prep running backs in the country. His 380 rushing attempts for 2002 yards, ability to block and catch, and the quiet leadership he exerted on his teammates would have made him an All American anywhere and anytime other than that spent sharing the backfield with Lydell Mitchell. Perhaps better known as the six time first or second team All Pro running back that made the Immaculate Reception and who had a legion of followers in "Franco's Army" due to his half Italian and half African American parentage, Harris's devastating blocks and pounding runs were the perfect counterpart to Mitchell's speed and flash. Friends and business partners to the present day, Harris and Mitchell have been successful as teammates in the food service industry for many years.      
It was back to what had become "business-as-usual" for Penn State in '72, a 10-1 slate and bowl game invitation to follow. Hufnagel matured into what Paterno termed his best all-around quarterback ever with All American status. The departed Mitchell and Harris were replaced by Tom Donchez and John Cappelletti as running backs though Donchez went down with a knee injury. The line however was strong, led by Valley Stream (NY) Central High School's Phil LaPorta and pass catching TE Dan Natale. Once again, the defense was the soul of the team with LB John Skorupan who split a six-year career between the Bills and Giants and DE Bruce Bannon ('73 Dolphins) earning "All" honors. The season culminated in a Sugar Bowl match-up against powerful Oklahoma who won 14-0. Later OU had to forfeit the game because of recruiting violations but Paterno stated, "The players know who won" and graciously noted the Sooners as the victors to finish out '72 with a 10-2 record. In 1973, the Heisman Trophy was won by running back John Cappelletti and he epitomized Penn State football because he was academically sound, clean-cut, hard-working, and devoted to his family and younger brother Joey who was suffering with and later died from leukemia. While this singular individual honor was the highlight of the 1973 season, Penn State's 12-0 record made a strong statement about Eastern college football. It also put the spotlight on Penn State's recruitment of quality athletes who graduated and then went on to pro football. From the 1973 team, LB Ed O'Neil (six NFL seasons),   DT Randy Crowder (five NFL seasons), OG Phil LaPorta (two seasons with the Saints), and Cappelletti of course (nine NFL seasons) all typified what Penn State football had become. As Tom Shuman took over for the departed Hufnagel at QB, this unstoppable team held off LSU in the Sugar Bowl to make Paterno the active collegiate coach with the best winning percentage.

Adding three-inch thick-style navy blue numerals to the sides of the helmet dressed up the uniforms a bit in this significant season. The jump to 8-2 was fueled by young, aggressive players including ten sophomores who cracked the starting lineup and who pushed the upperclassmen ahead of them. The names on the Penn State roster would now appear in the pro ranks in significant numbers and on a yearly basis. Tom Sherman ran the show at QB and after two years in the NFL later reappeared with the N.Y. Stars of the WFL and his target was often junior All American Ted Kwalick, now a 220 pound TE with the agility of a running back. Jack Curry came back for another solid season opposite Kwalick. The sophomore running backs  Charlie Pittman, who stepped in as the leading rusher had pounding Don Abbey a do-it-all FB in front of him. Reserve QB Frank Spaziani was moved to defensive end and later in his career safety, moves which gave him the experience to eventually become the head coach at Long Island's Hempstead H.S. and he current defensive coordinator at Boston College. Rich Buzin and Bill Lenkaitis were solid in prepping for their eventual NFL careers. The defense had an influx of Super-Sophs with Dennis Onkotz following Ralph Baker as the pipeline to the pros for Penn State linebackers. Onkotz was in on the game-saving tackle that preserved the 13-8 win over Number Three ranked North Carolina State (QB'ed by future Marshall and Georgia head coach Jim Donnan) that brought more national attention and a Gator Bowl bid to Penn State. The defense also featured soph starters Steve Smear, John Ebersole, and Mike Reid, all of whom had the NFL in their future. The shaven-headed Lions closed out the season with a 17-17 tie in the Gator Bowl against a loaded Ron Sellers-led Florida State team and Paterno knew he could tweak his young talent and take them even further. As the '67 soph class matured, Paterno had the makings of a dynasty and his juggernaut stoned all ten opponents before playing in one of the most exciting Orange Bowl games ever. Onkotz, Reid, and Pittman played at All American level and TE Ted Kwalick, later to take his wares to the 49ers, was everyone's All American. Steve Smear at DT lived up to his name, teaming with future Jet John Ebersole and Mike Reid to lead an awesome defense. Between them, Reid and Smear had 108 tackles, 62 assists, four recovered fumbles, and two blocked kicks. The constant pass rush helped shutdown defensive backs Pete Johnson and Neal Smith to numerous interceptions. A growing talent opposite Onkotz was outside linebacker Jack Ham. Center Warren Koegel from Seaford (LI) H.S. and Chuck Burkhart provided offensive stability and leadership with Bob Campbell again the all around back who augmented the brilliance of Pittman. The Lions first 10-0 season was followed by a heart-stopping Orange Bowl contest against a Kansas team featuring John Riggins, Bobby Douglas, and Don Shanklin. The tense, hard-fought game was 7-7 at the half, and with less than two minutes to play, 14-7 Kansas. With 1:20 remaining, the Lions blocked a punt with a ten man charge and then drove to the Jayhawk three where a Burkhart rollout made the score 14-13. Electing to go for the win, Burkhart's pass was deflected by a group of jubilant defenders but flags were down indicating that Kansas had twelve men on the field. Films later showed that Kansas had twelve men on the field for the final eighty seconds of the tense finish! Linebacker Rick Abernethy never left the field when his sub came in. Now facing eleven men, Campbell swept to his left for the 15-14 victory that left Penn State ranked number two in the nation with an undefeated and untied 11-0 season.

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