Draft-Bound Hackenberg Remains Humble, Praises Penn State After Final Game
Halfway through the TaxSlayer Bowl’s second quarter, Christian Hackenberg was brought down and injured his shoulder. It instantly became one of the biggest stories of the game, as his season came to a sudden end and backup quarterback Trace McSorley had to mount the Lions’ comeback. The game itself was the focus of the afternoon as Penn State cut into a 21-point deficit only to fall 24-17, but as soon as the clocks hit zero, attention shifted back to Hackenberg. We knew seniors like Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel were gone and likely bound for the NFL Draft, but as Hackenberg spoke to the media after his second bowl game, he initially remained as positive but elusive as he usually is.
“A lot. In a lot of different ways,” he said about how much Penn State means to him. “There’s a lot of things that went on, a lot of different life lessons that I’ve learned here, not only playing football. I think it’s a really really special place and not a lot of people realize that. It’s definitely something that’s really close to my heart now. Maybe it wasn’t three years ago, but definitely a lot more than I ever thought it would be now.”
And with that, what came next seemed inevitable. After his junior season, Christian Hackenberg will declare for the NFL Draft.
“There’s friendships, relationships that were built here that will last for a very long time,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be able to look back and see how everything transpired.”
“I don’t know if you could count on one hand how many programs would’ve survived what we survived. Just to be a part of that is really humbling, and from freshman year when I made the decision until now, I never realized how impactful it’d be to the community, the lettermen, and the alumni.”
Hackenberg committed when the future of Penn State’s football program was a mystery, and in the three years since he’s become the program’s all-time leader in touchdowns and yards. He’s the only Penn State quarterback with 8,000 yards through the air, and it isn’t even close — but even through the individual success, he’s always been a team-first guy.
“I’m super proud of how these guys battled. We’ve dealt with adversity for a number of years now in different ways and different forms. Being able to come together and enjoy every win and every moment…losses were tough, being able to bounce back and handle some things we needed to handle some things, it just got better.”
Hackenberg’s exploits on the field and off have always been masked in a layer of irony. He’s been one of the most successful and positive student-athletes in recent memory, and he’s the one who catches all of the criticism. Odds are unless he had a legendary performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl and carried out a statement win over Georgia, he’d have been blamed for the loss. It was sad but proper poetic justice that he left his final game with a sprained shoulder joint — he played for the team until his body couldn’t take it anymore, and he finally won’t be blamed for a loss.
His NFL prospects shouldn’t be harmed by the injury, as he explained he “wasn’t really worried about that. I knew it wasn’t a career-ender or anything like that, I was just more frustrated that I couldn’t go out there and finish the game…I couldn’t finish for the seniors, for myself, for my teammates, and everyone.”
Once he got a brace on his shoulder in the locker room, Hackenberg (who wants to coach after his playing days are over) put on a headset and helped Ricky Rahne, Trace McSorley, and the rest of the offense from the sideline.
Hackenberg never missed a game at Penn State. He’s been hit as much as any quarterback in the nation over that time period, but every time he went down he got back up. No matter where he ends up after the NFL Draft, we expect more of the same in his new home.
“I feel like my job at Penn State has been accomplished and it’s in good hands moving forward. I’m proud of that,” he said.
“I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out, but I know every time I stepped in that building, every time I had an opportunity to represent the university and the football program, I always tried to do it to the best of my ability and I hope that was good enough for those people. It was an honor to be a part of such a special group of guys to do something at such a special place.”