It’s such a simple question, yet there are many good answers — all depending on the criteria, memories and whims of the respondents.
I was writing a story about Sean Lee’s retirement from the NFL on Monday night and put together a ranking of the best Penn State linebackers of all time. I had NaVorro Bowman at No. 3 — behind only Jack Ham and Shane Conlan — and I made a comment on Twitter that Bowman might be the most underrated Penn State player of all time.
So, I decided to pose the question on social media: Who is the most underrated Nittany Lion player ever?
The responses were abundant and amazing.
I received several hundred messages on Twitter, Facebook, email and text with people telling me their picks for the most underrated player. There were sooooo many good choices, and many fans explained their picks with some background or other various criteria.
There really are no wrong answers to this kind of question. But after reading through so many responses throughout the day Tuesday, I decided to list five deserving players. I’m not including Bowman, a four-time first-team All-Pro in the NFL, simply because I’ve already championed him before.
These other players deserve their due, and received a lot of support from fans.
QB Daryll Clark
Aside from Bowman, this is actually my other favorite choice. For this reason below:
Daryll Clark. The man went 22-4 as a starter, won a big ten championship. Played in the rose bowl. Finished in the top 10 both seasons he was the starter. And he barely gets a mention among top PSU QBs. In fact, still run into fans who wish Devlin got more of a look. https://t.co/3RyPZO6kmR
— Donnie Collins (@PennStateTT) April 27, 2021
As Donnie Collins mentions, the Pat Devlin thing ALWAYS comes up when Clark’s name is mentioned. I was hosting a radio show during Clark’s two seasons as the starter — a Rose Bowl appearance and win over LSU in the Capital One Bowl — and I still remember getting lots and lots of calls from fans claiming that Devlin should have been playing over Clark.
A lot of it stems from this, which again was astutely pointed out by Donnie Collins:
Amazes me how many assume Devlin would have went into the toughest road atmosphere PSU plays in and done a great job. Besides, they should have won that game anyway. https://t.co/cNyMeGkIuX
— Donnie Collins (@PennStateTT) April 27, 2021
Clark got hit in the head the game before against Ohio State, and Devlin came in and helped lead the team to victory. Clark then was lousy the following game against Iowa, completing just 9-of-23 passes for 86 yards in a 24-23 loss that ended Penn State’s bid for a perfect season. The Lions dropped to 9-1 with the loss.
But as bad as Clark was in that game, PSU still had a chance to win that night at Kinnick Stadium. Then Anthony Scirrotto hit a receiver too early on third-and-15 and was called for pass interference, and Iowa rallied to win.
Clark threw for 3,092 yards, 24 TDs and 10 INTs as a senior in 2009 and was named co-winner of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award as Big Ten MVP.
Despite all of his accomplishments, to this day, Clark is still very much underrated by a lot of Penn State fans.
RB Evan Royster
Who is Penn State’s career rushing leader? It’s not Saquon Barkley. Not Curt Warner. Not Ki-Jana Carter, Blair Thomas, Curtis Enis, D.J. Dozier or Larry Johnson.
It’s Evan Royster, with 3,932 yards from 2007-10.
Yet when you think of the best running backs in Penn State history, does anyone really ever think about Royster? Nope.
Evan Royster and there isn’t a close second. https://t.co/ouwxWlhPLA
— Pa Sports Midday on The Pa Sports Network (@JoeLodanosky) April 27, 2021
Evan Royster—three year starter, and all-time leading rusher. That kid was a GREAT GREAT back—solid, dependable……but he wasn’t the big-time home-run threat.
— Chris Binner (@CbinnerChris) April 27, 2021
WR Deon Butler
As the following Twitter poster pointed out, Deon Butler was always overshadowed during his playing career from 2005-08.
Deon Butler – was always overshadowed by higher rated recruits in DWill and Justin King, but left as the all time leader in receptions, 2nd in Rec yards, and 3rd in Rec TD
— Jared Glowaski (@JaredGlowaski) April 27, 2021
Butler, you may remember, came to Penn State as a walk-on — at defensive back! He turned himself into an excellent college receiver and was a third-round NFL draft pick.
Along with Butler, receiver Jordan Norwood from that time frame also received some support from fans in the underrated category.
QB Zack Mills
He received a good bit of support from fans in my unofficial poll Tuesday. Zack Mills was very talented and a warrior who played a lot of football at Penn State. He appeared in 43 games from 2001-04 and threw for 7,202 yards.
Unfortunately, Mills dealt with a shoulder injury and was the starting QB during the dark years (2003-04).
Underrated? Zack Mills. He carried some absolutely atrocious teams. Without him the dark years would have been 2x as bad
— Mike (@El1teMike) April 27, 2021
QB Chuck Fusina
A number of other players got mentioned by fans, including WR Chafie Fields, QB Michael Robinson, DB Darren Perry and LB Mike Hull. But I’m going with one of the most successful PSU players — college and pro — that virtually no one talks about.
I remember watching old USFL football back in the early 1980s, and Fusina was the quarterback of the best team, the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. He won back-to-back titles for that team (1984-85) and was MVP of the championship game in 1984.
At Penn State, Fusina won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player in 1978 and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. He went 29-3 as a starter, including an 11-0 record during the 1978 regular season before a crushing 14-7 loss to Alabama on a goal-line stand that cost PSU what would have been its first national title.
Fusina had a tremendous career in college and the pros, yet 40 years later, you simply don’t hear many Penn State fans ever talk about him. That’s the definition of being underrated.