Leave Hackenberg Alone: An Open Letter
To Whom It May Concern,
It’s completely fair to like or dislike a figure in sports on a week-to-week basis. John Donovan comes to mind as an example, as he looked like one of the worst offensive coordinators in the country for a lot of last year and early this season, but has turned things around in recent weeks.
But that’s not what this is about. This is about a certain five-star recruit who came to Penn State in its darkest hour and put it back on the map. This is about a quarterback who led his team to a quadruple-overtime win over Michigan in the 2013 White-Out and won the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl. This is about the quarterback, who, if he reads Onward State, Penn Live, Centre Daily Times, or most other Penn State sites, can consistently see comments calling for him to be benched, saying he’s overrated, saying he’s only here to leave as soon as he can.
This is about the quarterback who realistically will leave for the NFL after this season. Penn State fans have been hypercritical of Christian Hackenberg, but we all need to take a step back and recognize something: One of the most important football players in Penn State history is almost gone, and we should be cherishing the moments we have left.
A Google search for “Christian Hackenberg overrated” turns up 4,500 results. There is a blend of opinion pieces and message boards, and are three variations of the headline “Is Christian Hackenberg The NFL’s Most Overrated Prospect Ever?” on the first page. Other than the fact that it’s bad form to have a question mark in a headline, it’s also a stupid question. He is a great quarterback who has dealt with Ficken-esque vitrol from his team’s fans, but he’s still doing his best to win.
Through two and a half seasons, Hackenberg has 7,018 career passing yards. He’s the second Penn State quarterback ever with 7,000 passing yards, and is closing in on Zack Mills’ school record of 7,212. It’s fair to say that after this weekend’s game against Ohio State, Hackenberg probably will have the most passing yards in Penn State history. He also has 39 touchdown passes, tied for sixth at Penn State with Kerry Collins. The one statistic that you could make a case against Hackenberg for is that he isn’t near the top of the list in wins – and while the quarterback is the team’s leader, he isn’t solely responsible for the outcome of every game. Sometimes there are outside factors like, oh I don’t know, a historically sanctioned roster, a bowl ban implemented right after his commitment, and playing with two head coaches — the second of whom’s offensive coordinator has become famous for calling games like an ass.
But let’s rewind to 2012. Specifically in February 2012, when Hackenberg committed to Penn State and Bill O’Brien. That summer, the program was hit hard with unprecedented sanctions, and Hackenberg rallied his fellow big-name recruits, including Adam Breneman, Garrett Sickels, and Andrew Nelson, meeting with the coaching staff over the summer to make sure they were all on the same page, and reaffirm their commitment to the program.
We all know that, though. Anyone who follows Penn State football, particularly over the last decade, knows that O’Brien and Hackenberg are two of the most important figures in keeping the program alive.
So as the season enters its second half, and Hackenberg’s professional aspirations creep into his mind with more intensity than ever, it’s important to remember what he has and does mean to Penn State. Wherever he is a year from now, whether that’s reunited with Bill O’Brien or anywhere else playing on Sundays, or even if he’s back in Happy Valley, it’s important to keep in mind: He came into the program as one of its highest rated recruits in recent memory, and was one of the highest rated in the country for his class. When the skies got dark, he stayed on course and refused to transfer from Penn State. And in his time here, in the face of all of the criticism he’s received, he’s set school records and led the team to victories in Ireland and in a bowl game.
He’s one of the best players to ever walk the hallowed grounds of Beaver Stadium because of his contributions both on and off the field. We probably have half of a season left to cheer him on and thank him for what he’s done. Let’s do just that.