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Wally Triplett achieved a number of firsts during his collegiate and professional football career, including becoming the first African-American starter for Penn State University. The gridiron pioneer passed last Thursday.

Wallace Triplett was born April 18, 1926 in the Philadelphia suburb of La Mott. He was reportedly offered a scholarship to the University of Miami which then rescinded the offer upon discovering that he was Black. Instead, he earned an academic scholarship to Penn State en route to becoming the school’s first Black varsity player and the first Black PSU player selected in the NFL Draft.

During the 1948 Cotton Bowl, PSU was slated to face off against Southern Methodist University. Officials at SMU wanted to call a meeting with PSU to discuss disallowing Triplett and fellow African-American player Dennie Hoggard from taking the field. According to Penn State lore, the school’s “We Are Penn State” stadium chant was reportedly made prior to the Cotton Bowl game declaring, “We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.”

Triplett was drafted by the Detroit Lions and became the first Black player to start in an NFL game after being drafted.

On Oct. 29, 1950, Triplett set the NFL record for kick returns with 294 yards on four kick returns. The record was broken in 1994 but remains the third-highest kick return tally in NFL history.

Triplett was drafted into the Korean War the following year, returning after a year of tour duty then joined the Chicago Cardinals for two seasons as a running back and kick returner before retiring from football in 1953. After sports, the Alpha man worked as a teacher and a manager for Chrysler.

Triplett was 92.

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