Quarterbacks always are taught not to zero in on just one target, and the mentors of Fork Union, Va., Military Academy signal-caller Christian Hackenberg urged him to similarly go through his progressions when it came to picking a college.
"I had a gut feeling [where I wanted to go], but my dad and my coach told me to wait, so I took a little time to think about it,'' Hackenberg said. "They finally came around, I guess you could say.''
With the zip of one of his laser-beam passes, one of the top-rated passers in the recruiting class of 2013 became a Penn State Nittany Lion last week.
Hackenberg also is a standout baseball player, and recruiting analysts think Bill O'Brien and his Lion staff have hit a home run in being able to land the 6-foot-3, 215-pound four-star prospect.
"He is very polished,'' Scout.com national recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. "Penn State has recruited some guys like Paul Jones and Rob Bolden who had tremendous upside, but they have yet to put it all together. Hackenberg comes in being ready to play from day one. He has the ability to make all the throws, and he is athletic. He may not be fleet of foot, but he moves well enough to get out of the pocket and make things happen.
"He is right up there with Kevin Olsen as the top quarterbacks in the East Region.''
Miami, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida rounded out Hackenberg's top five at the time he verbally committed to Penn State on Wednesday. Tennessee, Virginia, Stanford and a couple of Big East schools like Rutgers and Connecticut also were involved.
Hackenberg is coming off a season in which he connected on 171 of 341 passes for 2,164 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games while being intercepted 16 times. He has more than 3,000 yards passing and a better than 50 percent completion average since transferring to Fork Union from public school before his sophomore year.
Although he said some college scouts have told him his ability is similar to the Bears' Jay Cutler, Hackenberg said he watches several pro quarterbacks to take bits and pieces from their games to improve his own.
"I think the best thing I have is my athletic ability, and I feel I can make any throw a quarterback needs to make,'' Hackenberg said. "I'm athletic enough to make plays with my feet. I feel I can fit into an offense like Andrew Luck, not saying that I'm as good as Andrew Luck, but the way Andrew Luck did at Stanford.''
Fork Union coach Micky Sullivan, who played his college football at East Tennessee State with Altoona native William Casey, didn't expect to rely so much on Hackenberg in 2011 but was forced to go to a spread offense when running back T.J. Dudley was injured.
"He's pretty good, I guess,'' Sullivan said with a sarcastic laugh. "We didn't realize how good until my wife looked on the Internet and saw all the stuff that was being written about him.''
Hackenberg said the Penn State staff told him it only wanted to take one quarterback in this class. With his announcement, fellow four-star Virginia prospect Ryan Burns, the only other QB the Lions to whom the Lions had offered a scholarship, visited and made a commitment to Stanford.
While his selection of Penn State wasn't necessarily a big surprise, the speed with which Hackenberg reached the decision was. It was thought he would wait until at least the summer.
He said he didn't feel pressured by Penn State to make a quick commitment, although it does seem apparent that the Lions were hoping to fill the slot in their recruiting class sooner rather than later.
"Basically, they told me 'let us know if you feel you are going to decide by the summer,''' Hackenberg said. "I'd already set a date to have a decision by then, so that really wasn't a problem. I was just getting tired of the process, getting all the calls from the colleges all the time.''
Hackenberg's decision essentially was made during a visit to Penn State's Feb. 18 junior day, which he attended with 50-60 other potential recruits.
"I went up expecting to learn more about Coach O'Brien and to meet the staff and, especially, [new quarterbacks coach Charlie] Fisher,'' Hackenberg said. "Being able to go up there, I was able to see what they had to offer for academics and also what the football program was going to be like.''
Hackenberg has Pennsylvania ties. He lived in the eastern part of the commonwealth until he was 7, and his father, Erick, was a Big 33 quarterback at Marian Catholic who signed with Virginia. Although his first experiences growing up watching college football were with Penn State, he said that didn't have a big impact on his decision, nor did the story that his dad had wanted to be a Nittany Lion.
Both Hackenberg's father and grandfather were football coaches, though, so his playing definitely was natural. He took up the sport at a very young age and has been lining up under center since the beginning. Sullivan said Hackenberg's intangibles have even made a bigger impression than his arm.
"We played Liberty Christian. They ended up being Virginia state champion this year,'' Sullivan said. "They were bringing everyone and their brother and just knocking the fool out of him, and the kid kept getting up. I realized he was a whole lot tougher, mentally and physically, than even I believed.''
Although Lichtenfels thinks Hackenberg could see the field relatively early in his Penn State career, he might have a more immediate impact for the Nittany Lions, as well.
"Getting a top flight QB in the class is huge, but getting one early is even bigger. Quarterbacks are usually leaders, and a lot of top classes are put together because QBs are outspoken and they will help recruit players,'' Lichtenfels said. "That in itself is very big for Penn State, not only do they have a very active staff, but to have a leader and to have him on board early is crucial for recruiting.''
Hackenberg has taken that to heart. He's already been in touch with Cedar Cliff's Adam Breneman, the nation's top tight end prospect, and Central Valley's Robert Foster, considered by some to be the top wide receiver in this class. Hackenberg's also been messaging Wes Welker-like West Virginia receiving prospect Ryan Switzer, as well as Ohio cornerback Ross Douglas, who committed soon after Hackenberg did on Wednesday.
"Of course. I've got to surround myself with the best talent I can,'' Hackenberg said matter-of-factly.
Hackenberg might be getting his wish: Not long after the ace quarterback came public with his decision, Breneman has set an announcement date of Friday and is down to Penn State and three other schools.
Penn State has long been regarded as Breneman's favorite, but, like Hackenberg, he wasn't expected to make a decision this quickly. His father, though, recently told the Mirror that who Nittany Lions landed as a quarterback would figure into his son's college choice.