John Cappelletti takes shot to help local Lions

  • John Cappelletti won Penn State's only Heisman Trophy in 1973.
  • The Nittany Lions finished that season 12-0 and ended the year ranked fifth in the nation.
  • Cappelletti spent nine seasons in the NFL with Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers.

WELLSVILLE — John Cappelletti has played a lot of golf in support of Penn State University — enough that he’s rather burnt out on the sport.

John Cappelletti, running back for Penn State, is shown here at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City on Dec. 4, 1973, after being named the Heisman Trophy winner as the outstanding college football player of the year. Standing beside the trophy with John is Joe Paterno.

So, when given the opportunity to participate in Thursday’s eighth annual Penn State York Clay Shoot at Central Penn Sporting Clays, Cappelletti jumped at the chance.

“This is what got me back here,” Cappelletti said. “I have shot in the past, quite a bit in my younger years. When I heard this wasn’t a golf tournament, which I don’t really like to do anymore, I thought this could be interesting. My brothers could come up with me, I can spend some time with them, and doing things for a branch campus as opposed to the main campus.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the athletic programs at Penn State York.

The Penn State legend, the first and only player to have his number (22) retired by the Lions, has passed the days since his playing career ended by living in California and getting into classic cars.

“I’m headed into semi-retirement, let’s put it that way,” Cappelletti said. “I’ve been involved most recently in the classic car business, and that was good and I still kind of dabble in that. Buying, selling, restoring, consignment; just running the whole gambit.”

He’s also owned a number of the classic vehicles over the years, and when asked, quickly cited his favorites.

“So many of them,” Cappelletti said. “I think from when I grew up, the ‘69 Z28 Camaro or the ’67 Corvette Big Block would be a couple of the favorites right away.”

Before he headed out with his team to blast some targets, The York Dispatch got a chance to fire off some questions about his old program. Here are some of his takes:

James Franklin’s tenure thus far: Unlike some of the fan base, Cappelletti is willing to be patient when it comes to assessing James Franklin’s performance.

“It’s a tough profession anymore. Being a head coach at a major university, coming into the situation where Penn State was behind the eight-ball a little bit when he got there ... give him a little while and let’s see how we are doing. He’s getting them to bowl games. We’re kind of on the edge but we’re not there yet.

“Then again, everybody else is getting better, too, it’s not getting any easier.”

Cappelletti was noting the difficulties most Big Ten teams now face in trying to keep up with marquee coaches Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.

Sees something special in Saquon: There aren’t many people better suited to evaluate the game of current Penn State running back Saquon Barkley than Cappelletti.

Cappelletti is cemented in Nittany Lions lore for being the school’s only recipient of the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1973. That same season he also captured the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards as well.

Cappelletti helped lead Penn State to an undefeated 12-0 record that season that saw him rack up 1,522 yards on 286 carries and score 17 touchdowns. The Lions defeated Louisiana State University in the Orange Bowl on their way to fifth-place national ranking.

He is a 1993 inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame. A 1974 selection of the Los Angeles Rams, Cappelletti spent nine seasons in the NFL, including a stint with the San Diego Chargers.

As for Barkley, Cappelletti said: “He gets the ball and there’s something a little bit extra there.”

“He doesn’t go down easily, he seems like he’s got power, he’s got speed. And maybe they even kind of wrap some of their philosophy around the running game, say ‘Hey we got a great running game, let’s build on him a little bit.’ I’m looking forward to watching him the next three years. It’s going to be interesting to see how he does.”

Cappelletti cited Akeel Lynch as another recent favorite, noting that Lynch was the last to wear his number before its retirement in 2013.

Culture clean up: Cappelletti is pleased with the school's efforts to repair its image after the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Noting some of the more important things have happened off the field.

“I think they’ve done very well,” Cappelletti said. “And I think the NCAA kind of finally relented and/or admitting they didn’t do things so well, and they gave back a lot after they took it away quickly.

“Shaking up things at Penn State as far as the Board of Directors, how much power they have, how they can use that power; I think a lot of things were being looked at on those levels.”

However, Cappelletti did note that a wide divide will exist for long time when it comes to the court of public opinion.

“As far as the other damage is concerned, I think it’s going to take a while,” Cappelletti said.

“People are still on opposite sides of the fence on some of that stuff. Some people will never believe that this was the culture that was created and these were the people that were involved because of all the good they did for all those years. And other people will think they were covering things up, or they were hiding, or they knew. And that’s probably going to take a while to dissipate. It’s tough.”

Hackenberg: Some in the national media covering the upcoming NFL draft have been quick to doubt Christian Hackenberg’s pro potential. Even going so far as to suggest that Hackenberg blames his decline from his freshman year to his junior year on Franklin’s coaching.

Cappelletti’s take on the situation struck a reasonable middle ground.

“He came in as a freshman under Bill O’Brien and O’Brien was a quarterback coach. I think Bill’s approach to the QB position is structure, structure, structure. You have to practice this stuff all the time,” Cappelletti said.

“And I think when Bill left, there wasn’t anybody there left to pick up the slack, and Christian seemed to get a little bit sloppy in those areas where you need to be more precise. Throwing the ball off the back foot, throwing to a receiver that is a little more covered than you like to see.

“I think Christian was forcing some things and it got frustrating for him. Hopefully someone is laying in the weeds saying ‘If we can get this guy in the second round, this could be a big, big win for us.”

Cappelletti also held the very popular sentiment that O’Brien, now coaching the Houston Texans, might even be the guy in waiting to grab Hackenberg. That was until the Texans obtained free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler this offseason.

— Reach Elijah Armold at