Penn State Football: 15 best running backs in Nittany Lions history

Saquon Barkley, Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images) /
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Franco Harris, Penn State Nittany Lions
Franco Harris, Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Franco Harris is undoubtedly one of the greatest football players to have ever played at Penn State. He’s a Pennsylvania legend after initially starring with the Nittany Lions before putting together a Pro Football Hall of Fame career in the western part of the state with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That being said, Harris only comes in here at No. 8 because he wasn’t the featured back at any point during his NCAA career at Penn State. This is because Harris was used primarily as the lead blocker for future College Football Hall of Famer and former Baltimore Colts star running back Lydell Mitchell. We’ll get to Mitchell in a bit, but we need to give Harris his due for an underrated career while at Penn State.

Though you won’t see his name atop the school’s leaderboard in terms of rushing, Harris was exactly the type of player and man who made his teammates better, helping make Penn State a national power during the early years of the Joe Paterno era in State College.

Harris had 380 carries for 2,002 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns from 1969 to 1971. His rushing touchdowns total ranks only 15th in Penn State history, but Harris was a model of consistency in the Penn State backfield during his entire time in college. Paterno could count on him for 125 carries for 650 yards and six touchdowns a year.

Harris would turn a good, but not great college career into being the No. 13 pick by the Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft. He won four Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, including being named Super Bowl IX MVP, made nine trips to the Pro Bowl, three All-Pro Teams and was named NFL Man of the Year in 1976. Not bad for Penn State’s No. 2 running back in the very early 1970s.

After playing one year with the 1984 Seattle Seahawks, Harris would retire from ball. He would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 on his first ballot. Harris is the greatest running back in Steelers history and one of the legends of the game. Without his humbleness and grace at Penn State, Harris may not have become the prolific champion he was in Pittsburgh professionally.