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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 5 Art Luppino

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at UA: Running back, 1953-56.

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Led the nation in rushing in 1954 (1,359 yards) and in 1955 (1,313). … His 3,381 rushing yards rank third in school history. … His 21 rushing touchdowns in 1954 stood as the UA season record until Ka’Deem Carey went for 23 last season.

Why he made our list: The Cactus Comet was unrivaled as the brightest football star in UA history until the 1980s, and you can still make a compelling case that Art Luppino should be No. 1 on this countdown of the school’s top players. In 1954, he led the nation in rushing, kick returns, all-purpose yards and scoring (he had 24 touchdowns to go with 22 extra points).

There has never been a better single-game performance in UA history than the first game of his sophomore season, in 1954 against New Mexico State as the Wildcats unveiled a split-T attack.

Luppino rushed for 228 yards on only six carries, scoring on runs of 37, 48, 74 and 53 yards. He also scored on an 88-yard kick return and set up another score with a 43-yard punt return. UA won 58-0 as Luppino played only about 20 minutes.

Luppino, who combined a quick burst with shifty moves, was the first player in college history to win consecutive rushing titles, but his quest for a third in 1956 was wrecked by a preseason knee injury that limited him to 66 carries for 327 yards as a senior.

Despite that low total, he set the college career rushing record with 3,381 yards, which stood for a dozen years until surpassed by 7 yards by Eugene “Mercury” Morris of West Texas A&M in 1968.

Luppino’s 166 points in 1954, which included two touchdowns on kick returns and one on an interception return as a free safety, was an NCAA record for 17 years.

Life after college: Luppino’s knee problems and persistent concussion issues, stemming from when he was slugged by a Texas Tech player in a 1954 game, scuttled a pro career.

Luppino was a 30th-round draft pick (No. 356 overall), of the Washington Redskins in 1957. He didn’t sign until late July 1958 but the knee problem flared up in his first Washington workout and he gave up football.

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top five at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.

Arizona’s top 50

No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley

No. 49 — Hubie Oliver

No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski

No. 47 — Jim Donarski

No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter

No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin

No. 44 — John Fina

No. 43 — Glenn Parker

No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson

No. 41 — Marcus Bell

No. 40 — Fred W. Enke

No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey

No. 38 — Juron Criner

No. 37 — Dana Wells

No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe

No. 35 — Bruce Hill

No. 34 — Chuck Osborne

No. 33 — Brandon Sanders

No. 32 — Sean Harris

No. 31 — Mike Thomas

No. 30 — Bobby Wade

No. 29 — T Bell

No. 28 — Joe Salave’a

No. 27 — Eddie Wilson

No. 26 — Chuck Levy

No. 25 — Allan Durden

No. 24 — Nick Foles

No. 23 — Tony Bouie

No. 22 — ‘King Kong’ Nolan

No. 21 — Bill Lueck

No. 20 — Walter “Hoss” Nielsen

No. 19 — Trung Canidate

No. 18 — Mark Arneson

No. 17 — Chris Singleton

No. 16 — Mike Dawson

No. 15 — Max Zendejas

No. 14 — Dennis Northcutt

No. 13 — Jackie Wallace

No. 12 — Antoine Cason

No. 11 — Vance Johnson

No. 10 — Lance Briggs

No. 9 — Byron Evans

No. 8 — Darryll Lewis

No. 7 — Joe Tofflemire

No. 6 — Chris McAlister

* * *

Here is footage of Luppino from Arizona’s game against Idaho in 1954. He’s No. 22 at running back, safety and kicking extra points.

Luppino scores around the 22:50 mark on a 1-yard plunge, has a interception and a 42-yard return at 23:59 and scores on a 25-yard run on a pitch around left end at 31:04. (More rare UA game video is here.)

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