RB/LB Wallace “Wally” Triplett (1945-48)
There were about 20 names that were up for consideration for the final spot, including Kerry Collins, Trace McSorley, Todd Blackledge, Ki-Jana Carter, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and so on.
The duo of Mike Mauti and Michael Zordich also had a strong argument for everything they did for the 2012 team, but there wasn’t enough room for both, and it felt wrong to include one and not the other.
That leaves us with the late Wally Triplett, who is quietly the most impactful player in the history of the Penn State football program.
On Nov. 17, 1945, Triplett became the first African American player to start a game for Penn State. On offense, Triplett’s numbers were not earth-shattering, but he certainly made his presence felt on the field. In 1947, he carried the ball 34 times for 137 yards while catching five passes for 141 yards and totaled five touchdowns on the season.
In 1948, Triplett had 424 rushing yards with six total touchdowns, which included an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. On defense, Triplett had three interceptions that season.
His stats aren’t what is important though, the barriers he broke are.
In addition to being the first African American player to start for the Nittany Lions, Triplett, along with teammate Dennie Hoggard, became the first African American players to play in the Cotton Bowl Classic in 1948.
It is believed that this game is where Penn State’s “We Are” chant was made famous. Being played in the segregated state of Texas, the Cotton Bowl asked that Penn State leave its African American players at home. Team captain Steve Suhey replied “We’re Penn State. There will be no meetings.”
The “no meetings” part is in regard to Penn State cancelling a game against Miami the year prior because Miami asked that Triplett and Hoggard not play.
The 9-0 Nittany Lions tied with SMU 13-13 in that Cotton Bowl, with Triplett scoring a touchdown.
Triplett was not done making history. In the 1949 NFL draft, Triplett was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 19th round. While two African American players had been drafted in years prior, neither actually played in a game. Triplett became the first African American to play a game in the NFL, starring as a punt returner for Detroit.
Triplett’s story is a fascinating one and his bravery opened the door for thousands of men to purse their dream of playing football and playing in the NFL.
Because it was nearly 80 years ago, many fans do not realize the impact Triplett had on not just the football team, but Penn State as a whole. With him on this Mt. Rushmore, people will be reminded of all the great accomplishments he had in breaking the color barrier.