FORK UNION — With his signature on the dotted line, Fork Union Military Academy quarterback Christian Hackenberg can finally put any doubt to rest that he will be a Nittany Lion. One of the nation’s top prep signal callers signed his letter of intent early Wednesday morning to continue his athletic and academic career at Penn State University.
“It’s a huge relief,” Hackenberg said. “It’s over, that’s all I can say.”
Hackenberg made his pledge to Penn State early last spring, but the commitment was only the beginning of what turned out to be a yearlong saga. A dark cloud was hanging over the university following the charges and eventual conviction of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for child sexual abuse. After months of speculation on how Sandusky’s crimes would affect the football program, NCAA president Mark Emmert delivered some of the strictest penalties in NCAA history onto the school and the football program. Among the sanctions were massive scholarship reductions and a four-year bowl ban. Several of the 2013 verbal commits began having second thoughts and Hackenberg began hearing from a host of suitors.
“I sort of shut down the other schools,” Hackenberg said. “[Fork Union] Coach [Mickey] Sullivan did a good job of sort of shutting them down and making it known that I was a Nittany Lion commit and going to Penn State. Those schools understood that and I thank them for that. They were class acts.”
Despite attention from a host of ACC, SEC, and other big-name programs, Hackenberg never waivered and stayed firm to his commitment.
“Christian has been solid all the time,” Sullivan said. “He was going to Penn State because number one: It was the place he wanted to go to academically. Number two: He wanted to play for coach [Bill] O’Brien. Those things never changed.”
While there were many question marks surrounding Penn State football, a major constant was O’Brien. The former New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator was a significant factor in Hackenberg’s decision and was one of O’Brien’s first verbal commitments of the class. After an 0-2 start to the season, O’Brien and Penn State rallied to win eight of their last 10 games to finish second in the Big Ten Leaders Division. O’Brien began receiving attention from several suitors for his success at Penn State, but opted to sign a long-term contract with the program. Hackenberg remained in constant contact with O’Brien throughout the year and the two developed a special bond over their commitment to Penn State football.
“Coach O’Brien is a great guy and I trust him with everything,” Hackenberg said. “He’s been straightforward with me and I can’t wait to get up there and start working with him.”
Hackenberg and Fork Union started the 2012 season off with a tough 38-0 loss to Hermitage on ESPN in August. The senior still managed to throw for 144 yards and no interceptions in the defeat. Hackenberg led the Blue Devils to a 10-3 record culminating with a loss to Liberty Christian in the VISAA Division I state championship game. For the season, Hackenberg threw for 2,144 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Fluvanna County native assumed the starting quarterback role during his sophomore season at FUMA and finished his career with 5,473 yards and 55 touchdowns.
“He’s a gunslinger,” Sullivan said. “He has the arm to make all the throws and do all the things that he needs to do. He’s smart, he’s competitive, and he’s tough, so I think he’ll bring a lot to the table. I’m not saying he’s going to beat everybody out, but he’ll be part of the mix to compete for that starting job.”
Hackenberg is a consensus “four star” recruit by rivals.com, 247sports.com, and ESPN. The blue chip quarterback along with “five star” tight end signee Adam Breneman have carried the flag for Penn State football and have acted as de facto recruiting coordinators to the rest of the 2013 class. His loyalty to the school and to the program have made Hackenberg a popular figure among Penn State fan sites. Hackenberg says that this upcoming recruiting class will be the beginning of big things to come in State College.
“I’m going to come in there, and not only myself, but this class, we’re gong to work as hard as we can to bring in a lot of wins.” Hackenberg said.