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Penn State's Hackenberg matures as freshman quarterback

AP
Penn State's Christian Hackenberg throws during the second half of the Nittany Lions' 31-24 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Madison, Wis.

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Lion kings

Penn State's single-season passing leaders:

Player Year Yards

Matt McGloin 2012 3,271

Daryll Clark 2009 3,003

Christian Hackenberg 2013 2,955

Kerry Collins 1994 2,679

Anthony Morelli 2007 2,651

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
 

MADISON, Wis. — Adam Breneman has known Christian Hackenberg longer than any player on the team.

The true freshmen bonded upon committing to Penn State as high school juniors and have fostered a close friendship since.

Two years of knowing, working out and playing with him, though, hasn't blunted tight end Breneman's ability to marvel at what Hackenberg, a quarterback, is capable of.

“He amazes me just like he amazes everyone else,” Breneman said following a stunning 31-24 win at Wisconsin on Saturday. “Eighteen years old, leading this offense? He's awesome. For him to have a game like today is a good way to end the season.”

The Nittany Lions probably couldn't conceive a better way to end the season, either — and not just because it was a convincing victory against a top-15 team.

More important in regards to the future of the program, Hackenberg had the best game of his young career. He was named the national freshman of the week by Athlon Sports after having 339 passing yards and four touchdowns at Camp Randall Stadium.

When someone termed his performance as a “breakout game,” Hackenberg politely took issue. To him, the Wisconsin game was just the 12th chapter of a freshman education in quarterbacking at the college level.

“I'm just trying to build on everything and every game, just how it's always been,” he said. “It's been a progression for me — and it's been in different areas at different times.

“There was part of the season I was really in control of the run game; there were points in the season where I was throwing the ball really well. Our team was able to complement whatever it was (that we were) doing well.”

The most encouraging sign for coach Bill O'Brien and Penn State in the coming seasons as it emerges from the NCAA sanctions abyss is that the Nittany Lions will have Hackenberg for at least the next two years.

Hackenberg was one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks. He was second in the conference in completions (231), third in per-game passing yardage (246.2) and one touchdown pass off the Big Ten lead (21).

His 2,955 season passing yards were the third-most in school history. Included among his nine 200-yard and four 300-yard passing games were 14 completions of 40 or more yards.

Penn State appears positioned as well as anyone in the country at the most important position on the field.

“He understands the pocket better, and I thought he did a good job of delivering the football and being accurate with the football (Saturday),” O'Brien said. “You know, he's a good, young player. And I think that if he continues to work, he has a chance to be really good.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cadamski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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