A reporter previewing last month’s Alamo Bowl between Penn State and Texas A&M asked LaVar Arrington which school really deserved the title of “Linebacker U.”
A case could be made either way, the reporter pointed out. For years, Penn State owned the name because of players like Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz, Greg Buttle and Shane Conlan. But the Aggies had an impressive cast of their own, including Quentin Coryatt, Reggie Brown and Dat Nguyen.
“History says that Penn State is Linebacker U., forever,” Arrington said. “Anybody else who claims that name is just a wannabe. That’s the reason I went to Penn State, to play for Linebacker U. That’s something I’ll defend, with all my honor.”
The 6-3, 235-pound Arrington backed up his words with a dominating performance against the Aggies. He had 14 tackles and one sack as the Nittany Lions posted a 24-0 shutout. Three of the Penn State interceptions were the direct result of Arrington’s pressure on Aggie quarterback Randy McCown.
“Everything we heard about (Arrington) was true, he is a great football player,” said R.C. Slocum, the Texas A&M coach.
The Maxwell Football Club’s voters recognized that by selecting Arrington as the Collegiate Defensive Player of the Year. He will receive the fifth Chuck Bednarik Award, named in honor of the former University of Pennsylvania great.
Arrington had 72 tackles, nine sacks and 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage this past season. He also blocked two kicks, including a field goal attempt with four seconds left to preserve a 20-17 win over Pittsburgh. Against Purdue, Arrington sacked quarterback Drew Brees, forced a fumble, then scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr compared Arrington to Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker whose relentless sideline-to-sideline play helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls.
“When you’re standing on the sideline, as a coach, you just feel his presence out there,” Carr told Sports Illustrated, referring to Arrington. “He’s so fast, agile and competitive. Definitely one of the best players I’ve seen in this conference in a long, long time.”
Arrington was voted the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore when he recorded 65 tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions. He had 11 tackles and two forced fumbles in a win over Ohio State, including one play in which he shot through the line and literally stole a handoff from Buckeye quarterback Mark Garcia.
But the play that brought Arrington national attention was his fourth down stop of Illinois fullback Elmer Hickman. On that play, Arrington read the formation, anticipated the handoff, timed the snap count and launched himself over the offensive line to meet Hickman just as he was taking the ball.
The result was: 1) a fearsome collision, 2) a three-yard loss for the Illini and 3) a film clip that played on every highlight show in the country. The play became known as “LaVar’s Leap” and it stamped him as one of the most exciting players in college football, something the Penn State fans already knew.
“There was nothing you could say (about that play) except Wow,” said teammate Mac Morrison.
Arrington was Parade Magazine’s national high school player of the year when he
graduated from North Hills High School in suburban Pittsburgh. He played both ways in high school and excelled as a running back, rushing for more than 4,000 yards. He played safety as a freshman at Penn State before coach Joe Paterno moved him to linebacker and Arrington took his place among the other legends of “Linebacker U.”
Penn State University