Penn State Football

Who is Penn State's best-ever DE? There's a wide gulf after the top 3

Penn State’s  Courtney Brown pressures  Minnesota quarterback Billy Cockerham in the fourth quarter of their game in 1999.
Penn State’s Courtney Brown pressures Minnesota quarterback Billy Cockerham in the fourth quarter of their game in 1999. Centre Daily Times

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Penn State football: The all-time Top 10 at each position

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Our summer series determining Penn State’s top-10 all-time players at each position has reached Day 7, which means it’s the defensive ends’ turn.

To recap: We started off with running backs, followed by defensive tackles, defensive backs, wide receivers, tight ends and kickers/punters. There was a wide gulf between our top-3 defensive ends and the others, so be sure to check out the solid players under the honorable mentions.

As a reminder, we organized a group of 12 experts — six former players, six media members — to vote on the top-10 all-time players at each position. Each day we’ll release a new position, and if you think we missed something, you can vote in our fan poll, which will be released on July 21.

Here are Penn State’s top-10 defensive ends based on the opinion of our 12-person panel.

DE White
Penn State’s Bob White (#34); Scott Radecid (#97); Carmen Masciantonio (#84); and Mark Fruehan (#92) bring down a Notre Dame player during the 34-30 win against Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium on November 12, 1983. Pat Little Centre Daily Times

10. Bob White, 1983-1986

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / Unranked

Career stats: 140 tackles, 18 sacks

A co-captain of the 1986 national championship team, White always turned it up when it mattered most. During his senior season, in a key game at Notre Dame with the Irish in striking distance of a game-winning touchdown, White took an inside move and sacked Steve Beuerlein to change the face of the game. He’s tied for 12th all-time in career sacks and still remains an important part of Penn State.

9. Mike Hartenstine, 1972-1974

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / Unranked

Career stats: 212 tackles in final two seasons

Hartenstine is the definition of a lineman with a high motor. He had more than 100 tackles in consecutive seasons — technically the only PSU lineman since 1969 to lead his team in stops — and earned All-America recognition as a senior. He went on to a 13-year NFL career, won a Super Bowl and laid a vicious hit on Eagles QB Ron Jaworski (no flags on the play) that to this day some say is the hardest hit they’ve seen.

DE Nassib 3
Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib blocks Buffalo’s Joe Licata in a 2015 game.

8. Carl Nassib, 2013-2015

Best ranking / worst: No. 5 / Unranked

Career stats: 64 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks

Forget Notre Dame’s make-believe story of Rudy. Penn State’s Nassib is college football’s real underdog. His story is well known by now: Nassib came into Penn State as an unwanted walk-on, a player who didn’t even start in high school. But no one was more committed to his craft. Nassib became a starter in his final season and led the NCAA in sacks (15.5) while setting a single-season school record and winning both the Lombardi and Hendricks awards.

7. Cameron (Derek) Wake; 2000, 2002-2005

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / Unranked

Career stats: 191 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks

We asked our panel to simply rank the “best.” For those who weighed NFL success, Wake was definitely a favorite. He was talented at Penn State as a linebacker/defensive end, but he really exploded in the pros. After taking a year to train and spending two seasons in the CFL, he signed with the Miami Dolphins and went on to make five Pro Bowls. Among active NFL players, only four have more career sacks than Wake (92).

6. Walker Lee Ashley, 1979-1982

Best ranking / worst: No. 5 / Unranked

Career stats: 11 sacks in final two seasons; 52 tackles as a senior

The 1982 co-captain and All-American had a hand in five turnovers as a senior, with three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. He also promised ahead of the national title tilt with Georgia, “We’re gonna make Herschel (Walker) mighty sore.” He was a man of his word; Ashley made seven tackles and the defense limited the Heisman winner to 103 yards on 28 carries en route to the 27-23 program-defining win.

DE Maybin
Penn State’s Aaron Maybin puts pressure on Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor in 2008. (CDT/Christopher Weddle) CDT/Christopher Weddle

5. Aaron Maybin, 2007-2008

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / Unranked

Career stats: 61 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks

Maybin may not have had the sustained production of other Penn State greats, but both the players and media members felt he had the talent. He burst onto the scene as a 2008 All-American who racked up 20 tackles for loss — the sixth-most in Penn State history — and was a finalist for both the Hendricks and Bednarik awards. He declared early for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, leaving many to wonder what his career might look like had he stayed another year (or two).

DE Haynes
Penn State’s Michael Haynes (81) chases down Iowa quarterback Brad Banks (7) in 2002. (Centre Daily Times-Craig Houtz) Craig Houtz Centre Daily Times

4. Michael Haynes, 1999-2002

Best ranking / worst: No. 4 / Unranked

Career stats: 158 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 26 sacks

For three years, Joe Paterno would tell Haynes that the former soccer player didn’t realize just how good he was. “I said, ‘If you ever wake up, knucklehead, you are going to be a pretty good football player,’” Paterno said in 2002. As a senior, Haynes woke up. He was solid as a junior and fine as a sophomore but, in his final season, he had 15 sacks and 23 tackles for loss to go along with seven forced fumbles. He was an All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went on to be picked No. 13 overall in the NFL draft, and finished his college career third in career sacks and sixth in career tackles for loss.

3. Dave Robinson, 1960-1962 (4 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / Unranked

Career stats: None available for this time period

Before sacks were a statistic, Robinson was terrorizing quarterbacks as an All-American. For the time period, he had an uncanny mix of agility and strength — and he was virtually unstoppable. “I don’t try to hurt anyone out there ... but the harder you hit a man in the first period, the more you slow him down in the fourth period,” he once said. His accolades could rival any Nittany Lion: Robinson is in both the College Football and Pro Football halls of fame, he was named the College Player of the Year by the Newark Athletic Club in 1962, and he earned a spot on the Green Bay Packers’ all-decade team. Said opposing NFL coach Jack Christensen: “Trying to pass over Robinson, with his arms and reaction, is like trying to pass over the Empire State Building.”

DE Hali
Tamba Hali sacks Purdue quarterback #12 Curtis Painter in the first half of a game in 2005. CDT photo/Nabil K. Mark Nabil K. Mark

2. Tamba Hali, 2002-2005 (3 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 5

Career stats: 36 tackles for loss, 14 sacks

Before Hali’s junior season, Paterno predicted that, “One of these days, he will be a dominant football player.” Penn State fans didn’t have to wait long. Hali amassed 12 tackles for loss as a junior and, as a senior, he went on to record 17 tackles for loss and 11 sacks en route to a consensus All-American season. He could chase down a ballcarrier from behind, stuff the run, stifle the pass and step up in pressure-packed moments (See: 2005 Ohio State win). Hali was everything a football coach wanted — and, on top of it all, he was well-mannered and won NFL teams over with his mindset after escaping a war-torn Liberia. Some felt the Kansas City Chiefs reached when they selected him No. 20 overall, but he’s been to five Pro Bowls and only Derrick Thomas has more career sacks than him (89.5) in Chiefs history.

DE Brown 3
Penn State’s Courtney Brown pressures Minnesota quarterback Billy Cockerham in the fourth quarter of their game in 1999. Craig Houtz Centre Daily Times

1. Courtney Brown, 1996-1999 (5 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 4

Career stats: 70 tackles for loss, 33 sacks

Is it a surprise that the man with Penn State’s career records in both sacks and tackles for loss is No. 1 on this list?

It shouldn’t be. Brown’s career tackles-for-loss mark may never be broken. He has 19 more than the runner-up (Brandon Short, 51), and he averaged more than 2 per game as a senior. When he left Happy Valley, he held the NCAA records for both career sacks and tackles for loss. Said teammate Aaron Collins, back when Brown was just a sophomore: “He’s pretty intimidating. You just look at the guy — he looks so tough. He’s just a warrior.”

Brown was big, strong, fast, smart and instinctual. He was the prototypical defensive end. During Penn State’s Pro Day, he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and he was 6-foot-5 while teetering around 270 pounds.

The consensus All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and finalist for every major defensive award was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Although he never lived up to his potential in the pros, due in large part to injuries, he was an absolute monster in the college game. He’s the Nittany Lions’ best-ever defensive end and, regardless of position, he’s one of the blue-and-white’s most-talented players to ever suit up.

Top DE honorable mentions: Tyoka Jackson, 1990-1993; Justin Kurpeikis, 1997-2000; Larry Kubin, 1977-1980; Bruce Bannon, 1970-1972

Voters in our panel: (Players) Keith Conlin, 1992-1995; Bill Contz, 1980-1982; Stephon Morris, 2009-2012; Joe Nastasi, 1995-1998; A.Q. Shipley, 2005-2008; Adam Taliaferro, 2000; (Media) Nate Bauer, Blue White Illustrated; Matt Brown, The Athletic; Cory Giger, The Altoona Mirror; John McGonigal, Centre Daily Times; Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times; Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning Call

How the voting was done: Each voter was given an online survey, with 20-50 players at each position, to rank 1-10. If a player was not listed, voters were given the option for a write-in. First-place votes gave players 10 points, second-place votes gave them 9, etc. We then added all the point totals together to find our top 10; honorable mentions have received at least 10 total points.