The sport is college football, not hockey, but Penn State scored a hat trick of sorts last night when middle linebacker Dan Connor won the Bednarik Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive player.

Connor's former teammate, Paul Posluszny, took home the prize in both 2005 and 2006. The award is named for former Penn and Eagles standout Chuck Bednarik.

"It's the reason I went to Penn State. It's Linebacker U. To be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Ham, Paul Posluszny and Shane Conlan, that's an unbelievable honor in itself," Connor, a Strath Haven High product, said as his parents, Jim and Carol Connor, beamed during the College Football Awards show at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Connor, who led the Big Ten with 136 total tackles, beat out Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who won the Outland Trophy as the premier interior lineman.

The 6-3, 232-pound Connor, who plays his last game for the Nittany Lions against Texas A & M Dec. 29 in the Alamo Bowl, acknowledged Penn State coach Joe Paterno and position coach Ron Vanderlinden for helping him develop.

"He's a tough guy, a blue-collar guy," Connor said of Paterno. "That's what I love about coach. It rubs off on the players. You go in there, you're immature and he really makes you into a successful man."

Vanderlinden is "the best linebacker coach in the country, in my opinion," said Connor, who holds the Lions' career record with 410 tackles. *