PSU’s McSorley leaves a legacy like no other
As a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt in 2014, Trace McSorley remembers a phone call from James Franklin to inform that the coach was headed to Penn State.
McSorley felt like he had been punched in the gut.
“I was probably a little short (on the phone) because I was upset with how everything had gone down,” McSorley said.
Suddenly, there was uncertainty. Other schools had backed away and recruiting classes were filling up, a confusing and unnerving time, he said, “not knowing exactly what was going on and not hearing anything for a while.”
Eventually, a visit to Penn State was arranged, and McSorley committed to become a Nittany Lion. As he and his family stood up to leave, Franklin asked him, “So we’re cool now?”
Five seasons later, McSorley is cool, all right.
He redshirted in 2014, sat behind and learned from Christian Hackenberg in 2015 and entered the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia after Hackenberg was injured.
Penn State was down 24-3 before McSorley threw a pair of touchdown passes and had the Lions knocking on the door at game’s end in a 24-17 loss.
From that day, he never came out of the lineup.
“I guess I never thought it would have played out exactly like this,” McSorley, wearing his PSU letter jacket, told a lingering group of reporters on the HighPoint.com turf after last week’s win at Rutgers. “Obviously, I wanted to be a starting quarterback, win a lot of games, win big games. I wanted to contribute and do everything I could to make the team as good as it can be.
“How fast it happened probably exceeded my expectations, but I think I always expected that we were going to come in and turn this program around and bring it back to a championship level.”
He did that, becoming the program’s winningest quarterback in history with 30 victories, including the 2016 Big Ten title and ’17 Fiesta Bowl championship.
When he’s introduced this afternoon for senior day prior to the regular season-ending matchup with Maryland, McSorley will be the Nittany Lions’ all-time leader in passing yards (9,423), total offense (10,981, also first among current FBS players), touchdowns responsible for (101), 300-yard games (10) and 200-yard games (26).
He’s 10th all-time in Big Ten career passing yardage and needs two completions to become the Lions’ career leader with 693.
“Everything worked out well,” he said in a massive understatement.
Of all McSorley’s records and statistics, the ones that stand out are his 1,558 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns. The 27 rushing TDs rank ninth, but the only Nittany Lions to rush for more TDs are the most decorated running backs in school history – names like Saquon Barkley and Ki-Jana Carter, Lydell Mitchell and John Cappelletti.
As the Lions surged from a 7-6 program in the post-sanction era, it was McSorley’s field recognition and clutch performance time and again that have put them on the verge of a third-straight top-10 finish, depending on how this season concludes.
But it was also an intangible — his toughness and heart and a belief that everyone had in him, even as he and the offense struggled with the coordinator change from Joe Moorhead to Ricky Rahne, the losses of Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton and from the battering that an overreliance on him took this year.
Never was that more on display than the sheer will he showed in racking up a school record 461 yards of total offense — 175 on the ground — against Ohio State, one of the greatest individual efforts Beaver Stadium has ever seen.
For the way that he and Michael Zordich guided the Nittany Lion players through the turbulence of the scandal, I’ve felt Michael Mauti is the greatest leader Penn State ever had.
But McSorley belongs on a short list, too.
“I’ve just tried to have the same attitude I did as a freshman — come in, just work hard and be a leader and do anything you can for this team,” he said. “Be someone anyone could come to — on the field, off the field. Hopefully, guys will feel like I had an impact on their careers, the same way Christian had on mine.”
McSorley is most proud of the program’s ascension during his time, of “how far this team has come during my time here, going through my first couple years of 7-6, to where we were able to win a Big Ten championship, play in a Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl … just from where we started to where we’re going to be.”
He isn’t sure what holds for him as a professional. He’s received an invitation to the Senior Bowl, calling it “a big honor and a big opportunity to try and showcase what I can do at the next level.”
Listed generously at 6-foot-1, he won’t fit “the old cookie-cutter presentation that people have used at the quarterback position,” Franklin said.
At the same time, while “he’s not 6-4,” Franklin said, “I think we also see now in today’s football, there’s a lot of guys in the NFL and college that are playing at a high level.”
“I want to stay around the game as long as possible,” McSorley said. “So whether that’s playing as long as I can or coaching, whatever it might be, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do.”
Regardless if he ever takes a snap beyond the bowl game, when his name is called today, Penn State fans should realize they’ve witnessed a player who has transcended generations, one who has merged the dual threats of Richie Lucas, the passing of Kerry Collins, the running of Michael Robinson, the leadership of Todd Blackledge.
Trace McSorley is the best all-around quarterback in Penn State history.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.