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Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg Reflect On College Careers During Podcast

Former Penn State football tight end Adam Breneman released the second episode of his podcast series Monday night, and it included a fascinating interview with former teammate Christian Hackenberg.

During the nearly hour-long conversation, the two former blue-chip prospects reminisced on their recruitments and college days. One of the prevailing themes of “The Adam Breneman Show: Life in the Red Zone” is handling adversity, and both players obviously went through plenty of that throughout their times as Nittany Lions.

Breneman and Hackenberg shared the story of Bill O’Brien’s pitch to them as recruits. It revolved around the pro-style offense he ran at Penn State and as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator. The duo agreed it was one of the main reasons they wanted to attend Penn State.

“One of my big things going into a college setting was playing in a system that prepared me to play in the NFL,” Hackenberg said. “It was very much so a 1,000-foot view and not a 10-foot view. I was thinking about the future — both academically and athletically. When Bill got there, [Penn State] really checked all the boxes for me — especially on the football side.”

As a recruit, Hackenberg imagined what it would be like to run the same offense as Tom Brady, which makes the fact that the New York Jets drafted him and completely botched his development even more ironic. Breneman recalled being given No. 81 by O’Brien because he played a similar role to Aaron Hernandez’s on the Patriots. He, of course, acknowledged how poorly this analogy has aged.

O’Brien’s entire philosophy — not just his playbook — fit the mold of how both players wanted to be utilized. As a “pro guy,” O’Brien ran Penn State’s program like an NFL team, which is exactly what Breneman and Hackenberg wanted as players. That made his abrupt departure and Penn State’s subsequent hiring of James Franklin even harder for both.

Breneman vividly recalls O’Brien’s promise that he would stay at Penn State for as long as the incoming recruiting class did at an emotional meeting he called shortly after the NCAA’s sanctions were announced. That obviously didn’t happen, though, as O’Brien took the Houston Texans’ head coaching gig after the 2013 season.

In Hackenberg’s words, Franklin runs his program in “the traditional college way.” That might sound obvious, but his philosophy doesn’t include as many pro elements as O’Brien’s. That’s only natural, though, because O’Brien has far more experience on NFL sidelines than Franklin. Since NFL teams don’t have to go out and recruit players, for example, O’Brien didn’t emphasize that particular skill as much as Franklin does.

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there is my opinion of Coach Franklin,” Hackenberg said. “The biggest thing — and the only way to say it — is that I thought the philosophies were very, very different. The thought process in the NFL and the thought process in college is very different.

“Coach Franklin came in, and he had done certain things in his way. What he knew was the college game. For him, it was recruiting and taking in that grandeur of presenting a place to be irresistible, whereas Bill kind of went on the traditional side that Joe [Paterno] established of Penn State selling itself.”

However, the instant change in philosophy that came with Franklin’s hire and other factors — including injury for Breneman and a dismal offensive line in front of Hackenberg — made their next two years of college much more challenging. As challenging as they may have been, the 2014 and 2015 seasons have proven to be very valuable for Hackenberg, who said he really learned how to handle adversity during that time.

You can listen to the full episode of the podcast, which includes stories ranging from the media swarm following the NCAA’s sanctions and random moments during games, here.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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