by Ben Jones
Nothing gets past Penn State’s freshman quarterback.
He may not yet be 20, he may have been on campus for less than a full calendar year, but Christian Hackenberg is bright. No doubt about it. There is a tangible confidence that flickers through his eyes when he looks at you to hear your question and an equally calculated answer when he responds.
So on Wednesday afternoon, Hackenberg was as ready as ever to answer questions for the first time since Bill O’Brien’s departure from Penn State. Standing inside the Lasch Building weight room, Hackenberg was a unique bridge between two worlds, very much still a product of his old coach and now the man running the show for his new one.
“I wasn’t really going in there looking for anything,” Hackenberg said of his first meeting with new head coach James Franklin. “He was really up front with me and honest with me about what he wanted to do. He didn’t really have to sell me on anything, I’m still here, this is where I want to play ball, it was a great meeting and I just got to know him better on a personal level.”
The offseason has been eventful for everyone around the Penn State program, but for Hackenberg it has especially impacted him. From losing his head coach to his No. 1 target during his freshman season in Allen Robinson, Hackenberg had to make a lot of tough choices, but he made all of them with confidence.
“No, not at all,” He said when asked if there was ever a moment of doubt about his future in Happy Valley. “I sat down and you know, I talked to my parents and I’m here and I don’t plan on going anywhere else.”
It seems unlikely that Hackenberg would have ever left short of a horrific hire for head coach. A transfer would have required him to sit out a season, extending what seems like a probable early departure to the NFL.
At the end of the day, Hackenberg needs two more years starting experience for a coach with some semblance of offensive knowledge before he can consider turning pro. Even if Franklin doesn’t have O’Brien’s background, Hackenberg is still a starting quarterback at a major college football program. Franklin should be able to guide him the rest of the way even without an extensive resume.
“I feel like a lot of that stuff is going to translate,” Hackenberg said of what he learned from O’Brien. “It’s going to help us down the road, it’s going to help me down the road. I feel like what Coach Franklin’s bringing in, from what he’s told me, it’s pretty similar to a lot of the concepts, the verbiage. I think that getting that type of coaching early on is going to help me adjust to whatever type of system comes in here.”
Maybe his future was never in doubt, but even so, Hackenberg’s commitment to Penn State is one more loose end tied up for a program that is making a habit of hitting the reset button.