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The Meaning Behind Trace McSorley’s Tattoo …and 9 Other Signs of Faith In Penn State’s Starting Quarterback

by on August 25, 2016 9:30 PM

Penn State has a new starting quarterback. It’s been awhile.

Thirty-nine games and 1,342 days as of next Saturday, to be exact.

That’s how long it’s been since someone not named Christian started a game at QB for the Lions.

Richard Thomas “Trace” McSorley III will change that on Sept. 3.

(That pre-Hack starter? Matthew McGloin on Nov. 24, 2012; 19 of 37 for 200 yards, 1 TD, in a 24-21 win over Wisconsin in Beaver Stadium.)

McSorley is a Christian of another sort, and he wears his faith where his sleeve usually goes. On his left biceps.

McSorley, a redshirt junior and Christian Hackenberg’s backup the past two seasons, is big on tattoos. And, as a leader since his playing days at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, he’s big on inspiration – and being an inspirational leader.

In McSorley’s four seasons as a starting quarterback (that’s right, he started as a freshman), Briar Woods had a 55-5 record and went to four consecutive state championship games, winning three of them.

Those numbers say a lot about who is he is as a leader. His tattoo says a lot about where he gets his inspiration. Let’s have McSorley explain, as he did when I inquired a few weeks ago at media day about his tat and the Bible verses emblazoned on it:

“I have a cross,” he said. “There’s Psalms 23:4; that’s a verse that has been passed through my family. And Phillipians 4:13 was one that I always took a liking to growing up.”

Both are popular verses. And they go like this:

Psalms 23:4 -- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Phillipians 4:13 -- I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me.

(Longtime Penn State fans will remember the latter as the verse former quarterback Todd Blackledge said he repeated over and over to calm his nerves during the 1982 game-winning drive against Nebraska.)

McSorley’s tattoo had some extra work done to it recently.

“I actually just got a little addition to it,” he said. “My mom (Andrea) gives me a medal before every game. There’s a prayer on the back of it and I just put that underneath the old tattoo. It’s from the medal of St. Benedict. I put it in Spanish. ‘May the holy cross always be my light and may the dragon never be my guide.’ It’s just always pulling me in the right direction.”


Here are nine additional signs of McSorley’s faith – and the faith others place in him:

1. The Penn State Offense:

McSorley in early August: “I don’t want to say that I’m limited with certain things, but I do fit in very well with this offense that Coach (Joe) Moorhead has brought to Penn State and this program. What I’m most comfortable with is the drop-back passing game that we have. I don’t want to say it’s basic, but it’s not incredibly complicated. It’s predicated on running against looks that are going to be advantageous to what we do on offense. The RPO’s (run-pass options) we have are going to be, in my opinion, one of the best things of our offense because defenses can, in one sense, never be right since they’ll be short a man.”

2. Backfield Mate Saquon Barkley:

McSorley, again in early August: “What Saquon brings to the table is that he’s a big dude -- but he’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s agile, he makes people miss, he runs through arm tackles. All those things are great for any back in the country and they’ll only be better in this offense.” 

3. McSorley’s Greatness as a High School Player:

Mike McCall, editor of the Virginia High School League Book of Records, told me back in March: “Trace was probably the best safety in the state in high school. He can do it all. He’s a tough kid, great athlete.”

4. McSorley Has Run This Kind of Offense Before:

In four years of high school, while running a spread offense as an up-tempo quarterback he threw for 9,981 career yards and ran for 2,072 more, for 12,053 total yards – second all-time in Virginia high school football history. His 693 career completions are a Virginia record and his 149 total touchdowns (111 passing, 38 running) rank No. 3 all-time.

5. McSorley as The Next Starter – Back in December 2015:

Offensive tackle Andrew Nelson during Penn State Bowl Media Day: “Trace is an amazing kid. Whenever Trace becomes quarterback of this program, I am excited for that day because he really is a competitor. That’s probably the biggest thing -- he’s a baller. People say some players are ballers and that’s Trace. He does whatever he has to do to be successful. He is a competitor. He will do anything he can do to win.

“Trace has some strengths with his legs. You can see that. That’s evident in practice. He runs quarterback counters and” – Nelson snapped his fingers -- “he’s gone. That’s exciting for the future as well. His competitive attitude is No. 1.

“You know eventually Trace is going to step into that role as leader of this team at quarterback. Who knows when that will be? But he’ll be ready when that time comes.”

6. Head Coach James Franklin Announcing McSorley as The Starter on Wednesday:

Franklin: “We’re excited with what he brings to our offense. I think the biggest thing is, he’s been the backup quarterback for two years. He has game experience, and there’s value in that. You’ve been able to see it already, you’re not projecting as much.

“…it was how he went about meetings, how he went about practice. It wasn’t one thing. It was a combination of factors. It was spring practice, it was meetings, it was the bowl game, being the backup for two years, summer. It was the whole picture.”

7. McSorley is The Guy.

Franklin on Wednesday: “You always like to have one quarterback, and you don’t want (McSorley) peeking over his shoulder. We’re going to try not to have a two-quarterback system while I’m here.”

8. Numbers Don’t Lie.

McSorley, in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, after subbing for Hackenberg: 14 of 27 for 142 yards, with fourth-quarter TD passes of 17 yards to Geno Lewis and 20 yards to DaeSean Hamilton, plus 31 yards rushing on seven carries.

McSorley in the 2016 Blue-White Game: 23 of 27 for 281 yards, with four TD passes, to Chris Godwin (15 yards), Saeed Blacknall (22), DeAndre Thompkins (35) and Tom Pancoast (2).

9. This is Trace McSorley’s Twitter Bio:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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