PSU freshman QB Hackenberg earns quick respect
While he strolls the bucolic Penn State campus, Christian Hackenberg keeps his head down to blend in as a “regular student.”
While he “immerses himself” in a general education course textbook, Hackenberg strives to learn just as any other college freshman would.
While he relaxes with teammates, Hackenberg maintains his characteristic laid-back demeanor not unlike scores of other introverted 18-year-olds.
It's not until Hackenberg is in a football setting that he begins to show what makes him so different, so equipped to handle the weight of a sanction-saddled program.
It has nothing to do with the five-star recruit's strong arm or rugged 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.
“You could immediately tell, right off the bat, that he was a quarterback,” center Ty Howle said. “Quarterbacks carry themselves a certain way — and he did.”
Penn State's veteran players have jumped on board behind the precocious teen. But while, as Howle alluded to, most good quarterbacks are identifiable by their disposition, not all carry themselves the same way.
Look no further than Hackenberg's predecessor. Matt McGloin cemented himself in Penn State lore with a record-setting 2012 season under trying, post-NCAA sanctions circumstances. But while McGloin won over teammates, coaches and fans by way of a combustible competitiveness, Hackenberg has turned heads by way of almost the polar opposite.
“Christian is a calm guy, and that's good,” coach Bill O'Brien said. “The team feeds off of that. The guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
Hackenberg hosted Wednesday what figures to be the first of many media teleconferences in advance of Saturday's game against Kent State. He handled himself like a fifth-year senior.
“I'm just focused on getting better and helping the team in any way I can,” Hackenberg said. “Publicity, whatever, but at the end of the day, I'm just playing football — and it's more about the team to me than any of that kind of stuff.”
The Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice in three games, Hackenberg has completed 72 percent of his first 92 college passes with four touchdowns, three interceptions and 851 passing yards.
“He's a smart guy and poised,” Howle said. “We listen to him.”
O'Brien, who has praised Hackenberg's play, noted the elimination of six to seven mistakes per game is all that's holding him back.
Hackenberg credited his alma mater, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, and coach Micky Sullivan for keeping the proper perspective.
For carrying himself like a quarterback.
“You've got to be the rock, you've got to be the foundation, you've got to be the leader,” Hackenberg said.
“I'm a lucky guy. I get to play in from of 108,000 fans every Saturday at Beaver Stadium, and I play in a great league in the Big Ten. It's a great opportunity, and I'm blessed to have it. The important thing is keeping a level head and understanding that you're the guy, that you have to make the plays. You touch the ball every play, so whether you're handing it off or throwing it, you've got to keep a level head and be able to execute.”