Christian Hackenberg

Note: Hackenberg is grandson of CHS '63 graduate, Dr. Richard C. Miller

Penn State entertains potential recruits at Beaver Stadium

October 28, 2012|By Emily Kaplan, Inquirer Staff Writer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - It was two hours before kickoff of Penn State's biggest game of the year, and a 17-year-old wearing a navy sweat suit weaved through a sea of white-clad fans outside Beaver Stadium.

He was the biggest celebrity in sight.

Fans stopped to say hello to Christian Hackenberg, the five-star quarterback orally committed to play for Penn State next season. They high-fived him. They wished him luck in his senior season at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.). They wanted to thank him for sticking with his commitment to the Nittany Lions, even through the crippling NCAA sanctions, even through Penn State's 0-2 start.

"It's been pretty crazy," said Hackenberg, who is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and has arm strength and composure that make Lions fans giddy. "Every time I come up here, I see my name yelled out in groups."

Headlined by Hackenberg, dozens of high school prospects came to Beaver Stadium as Penn State lost to No. 9 Ohio State, 35-23, in front of 107,818 fans.

Saturday's game was troubling for coach Bill O'Brien and his staff: Penn State's five-game winning streak was snapped and, in the Lions' first true test of the season, they made a series of mental mistakes.

It is unclear what - if any - impact that will have on the recruits. But if the mood before the game was any indication, the future seems bright for O'Brien on the recruiting trail.

"I'm loving everything O'Brien has done with the team," Hackenberg said. "He's one of the main reasons why I committed here, and he keeps proving me right.

"I'm just really looking forward to seeing the atmosphere and seeing how the guys and the fans react to this kind of game," Hackenberg said before the game.

The Penn State student section showed support by arriving early, cheering loudly, and staying until the end, as Penn State players sang the alma mater in the end zone. It was the first sellout at Beaver Stadium this year and the first all-stadium whiteout.

After the game, senior cornerback Stephon Morris cited that as one of the reasons recruits should stick with Penn State.

"And the fact that Coach O'Brien is a great coach," Morris said. "Not even that, you have academics, great support in the stadium. If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely come back here, in a heartbeat."

Beginning next year, the Lions can offer only 15 players scholarships - 10 fewer than the maximum. Penn State will also not play in a bowl for four seasons, beginning with this one. It's hard finding players who want to enter a situation like that, and that's why fans have embraced Hackenberg so dearly.

National signing day is Feb. 6.