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Penn State Football: Part 2, Q&A with QB Christian Hackenberg

by on July 27, 2014 10:15 PM

After just one season, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg already has...

...As many 200-yard passing games as Todd Blackledge (nine). More 300-yard games (four, tied with Kerry Collins) than any other Penn Stater, save for Matt McGloin (six).

...More pass attempts in a single game (55, vs. Indiana) than any other Nittany Lion quarterback. Ever.

...The third-most single-season passing yardage (2,955) by a PSU QB, behind only McGloin (3,266) and Daryll Clark (3,003).

And he ranks in the Top 8 of no less than 15 game, season and career Penn State passing record lists.

Hackenberg could end his career tomorrow and he would be guaranteed a spot among Penn State’s all-time greats at quarterback. But lucky for James Franklin, his star signal-caller is only a sophomore this season, and as such has at least two seasons remaining at Penn State. For his part, Hackenberg fully — and humbly -- understands his place in Penn State football history.

“I love being able to wear the blue and white out there and understand the tradition that came with it and at the position,” said Hackenberg, who started every game as a freshman in 2013, leading the Nittany Lions to a 7-5 record. “I’m enjoying it and taking it one day at a time.”

Hackenberg made those comments in a one-on-one interview we did at the end of spring, a portion of which appeared in the “We Are! 2014” Penn State preseason magazine from the Black Shoe Diaries folks. It is available now in digital form by ordering here.

During that session, we talked for quite a while, with a big chunk not making it into the magazine feature, which was about the life of a Penn State quarterback. As a result, new and previously-unpublished excerpts from that interview are published here as the second of a two-part interview. To read Part 1 of the interview, which appeared last Friday on StateCollege.com, click here.

In the following, Hackenberg talks extensively about the legacy of and large footsteps left by many great Nittany Lion quarterbacks.

On being quarterback at Penn State:

“There’s a lot of tradition here and it’s a huge honor. I think it’s just how special this place is. Running out there on game day, there’s going to be all the eyes on you… I love it. It’s a lot of different types of pressure, it’s a lot of different sets of eyes on you, a lot of different perspectives. It’s a huge honor being able to do it and have guys on the team support you, having support off the field, and by the coaching staff. I love being able to wear the blue and white out there and understand the tradition that came with it and at the position. I’m enjoying it and taking it one day at a time.”

Meeting former Penn State quarterbacks:

“There have been different personalities that have all played quarterback here. It’s a little weird. You got a fiery guy like Matt (McGloin), you got guys like (Todd) Blackledge that were stoic, drop-back kind of quarterbacks, great guys on and off the field. Then you get guys like Darryl Clark and Michael Robinson, who are just dynamic on the field. I think there’s no one blueprint.

“Just being able to meet those guys and learn about their experiences here has been great, whether they’re guys who won national championships or guys didn’t win a lot. Being able to see their experiences and how their ride was, then try and learn from what they took from it and their overall experience is really important. I like catching up with guys like Matt whenever I can.

“The guy I always catch up with when he comes back is Mike Mauti. He’s a great guy, a guy that I’ve talked to since I was getting recruited. Blackledge came back last year for one of the practices and said ‘hello.’ I got to talk to him a little bit. When guys come back here they get the same feeling – that this is a special place is and the bigness of it for them is still here, even when they’re not playing. They understand that. I think it’s cool just to see how they think it’s changed. Building those relationships with guys that you can kind of rely on, getting their prospective and what they think, is special.”

What makes a Penn State quarterback special:

“I think it’s not only at the quarterback position. I think it’s from every position on the depth chart. That’s what unique to Penn State. (Bill) O’Brien used to call it a Penn State Guy. That’s one thing I noticed when I was getting recruited here -- the type of kids that are here, and the type of team and the atmosphere that you were going to have. You had a bunch of guys who would do anything for you, hard working both on and off the field. Great guys.

“Some teams get really cliquey. We aren’t cliquey. We all hang out together. You can go from one dynamic to another dynamic and still be able to have conversation and have a good time. I think that’s one of the things that is unique here, that commonality we have. This is special. There’s a team bond that has been built here in just a couple years, given with all these guys have been through. I’ve noticed it to be even stronger. For me, that’s one thing that has carried on throughout the years.”

How the quarterback position has changed at Penn State:

“I think it has become more of a focal point. The position has been more of a highlighted area. Before it was always the running backs and linebackers, and the coaches were great. The quarterbacks were great players in themselves, but I don’t think they were asked as much to do what Matt was doing two years ago or even Michael Robinson or Darryl Clark, what they were doing when they were here.

“I think that it’s cool to see that evolution. It’s just a part of the time lapse of what football has gone through. In the ’80s it was more smash mouth, especially in the Big Ten, and the type of kids that we got here reflected that. Then you start getting all these spread, run-and-gun-type systems, and the NFL is running more pass-oriented systems. That has forced a lot of schools -- not only Penn State – to change. But you can see it here with how much of a focus the quarterback position has become.”

Handling the transition from high school to college:

“…It’s a big difference for me. I played at Fork Union Military Academy, where I had 50 people at my games. There were more cow pastures and cows than when I’d drive to school, so it’s a big difference. I’m enjoying it, eating it up. I love my teammates and it’s a lot of fun.

“A big transition was understanding the bigness of Penn State football and just college football in general. For me, in high school it was more about the process, just going to compete, help my team win and enjoying the recruiting process. It was a matter of taking that one step at a time and going to school. Then you come here and the stage is set.

“There are always cameras in your face and people asking you questions wherever you go. You can’t really get any down time. You go out to eat and people are asking you questions, How’s the new coach? How are workouts going? I’ve really just tried to take a step back and understand how big it was and understand that I’m a representative of the program, just as any of my other teammates are. Then try to represent the program the right way."

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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