Hackenberg excited for Nittany Lions’ future
Christian Hackenberg loves Penn State. Unconditionally, and even when the conditions haven’t been so great.
Severe NCAA sanctions didn’t scare the star quarterback away as a high school recruit. A coaching change after his freshman season didn’t do it either.
“After you finally get up on campus and get to build a relationship with the guys and the people up here, it’s tough to leave,” Hackenberg said Wednesday. “It’s a special place, and people really don’t understand that until they step up here and are part of it.”
Some might have worried when Bill O’Brien left for the NFL that Hackenberg would transfer. He was asked Wednesday how much he considered that possibility.
“I didn’t,” he said.
Hackenberg’s answer was brief, but it spoke volumes about his commitment to Penn State.
Not just to Bill O’Brien, but to the school and program.
Hackenberg spoke glowingly and appreciatively about his relationship with O’Brien, while also expressing excitement about getting to play for new coach James Franklin.
There was a feeling expressed by some fans on social media that O’Brien turned his back on players such as Hackenberg, who remained committed to Penn State despite the sanctions. But the quarterback himself said he never felt disrespected by O’Brien’s departure.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s a business. He had to do what he had to do and what he felt was best for his family. At the end of the day, what comes ahead of everything is family.
“I wish him the best of luck,” Hackenberg added, “and I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me and this team and this program, which is what people should be focusing on.”
Franklin recruited Hackenberg when he was at Vanderbilt, but they had very little communication. Hackenberg said they spoke on the phone once when he was a junior, and the quarterback said, “It wasn’t anything serious to where I could really get a feel for who he was as a person and as a coach.”
That process didn’t start until Franklin and Hackenberg met Sunday, before the coach held his first squad meeting.
Hackenberg came away with a great first impression.
“I think he’s a very personable guy,” the quarterback said. “He’s up front, he’s honest, he brings a lot of integrity to the room. He’s very fiery. I think he’s a guy that really loves the game and really loves coaching it, and I can’t wait to get on the field with him.”
Hackenberg also made it clear he’s 100 percent behind the hire.
“I think he’s the perfect guy for the job,” he said.
Keeping Hackenberg around was paramount to Penn State’s immediate future. As Franklin said during his introductory press conference, “When you have a quarterback, you have a chance.”
Hackenberg obviously isn’t just any quarterback, which he showed this past season when he threw for 2,955 yards, 20 TDs and 10 interceptions as a true freshman.
That was in O’Brien’s pro-style system, which the coach learned with the New England Patriots, and it’s not yet known what kind of offense Franklin plans to run. Rest assured, though, it will be one that capitalizes on Hackenberg’s immense talent.
“I’m excited and can’t wait to get [the playbook] in my hands,” the quarterback said.
First things first, Hackenberg looks forward to getting to know new quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne and new offensive coordinator Bob Donovan, both of whom are coming with Franklin from Vanderbilt.
Hackenberg also should benefit from the fact that Franklin played quarterback himself in college. O’Brien was a good mentor, but he was a defensive player, whereas Franklin already has experienced the same kind of things Hackenberg will experience on the field.
One major component Hackenberg will not have next season is star receiver Allen Robinson, who gave his up final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. Robinson had 97 catches and always gave his quarterback a reliable option, particularly in the clutch.
“I can’t say enough about what Allen did,” Hackenberg said. “He’s a fantastic player. I wish him the best of luck.”