Quarterback recruit inherits his father's PSU dream
(Note: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the grandson of CHS graduates Dr. Richard C. Miller and the late Janice (Makovec) Miller)
By FRANK BODANI
Daily Record/Sunday News
This Penn State story has two layers. The first is whether one of the top high school quarterbacks on the East Coast will choose the Nittany Lions and new head coach Bill O'Brien. Christian Hackenberg is big and athletic. He's been groomed as a coach's son. He's learning about life and football at a military academy. He's gotten early scholarship offers from the biggest and best football programs. And so the Virginia junior was at Penn State recently to check things out, a part of the process of deciding on a college by the end of summer. But there's a deeper layer to this typical recruiting story. The intriguing part. The quarterback who is one of the most important pieces of O'Brien's first recruiting class has a special connection to Pennsylvania. And to Penn State. Just look to his father.
Erick Hackenberg had his own big football dreams 25 years ago. He grew up near Tamaqua in Pennsylvania coal country, Penn State football country. He lived just down the road from a Penn State coach. He played in the prestigious Big 33 Game in Hershey - and threw a touchdown pass to Rocket Ismail. He just didn't have the size the Nittany Lions wanted. So he went to play at the University of Virginia and settled in as a little-used backup for three years. He ended up leaving and finishing his degree - and his playing career - at Division III Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove. Meanwhile, he got married and had a baby boy. Hackenberg and his volleyball-coaching wife planted roots near Tamaqua before a job promotion took them to Charlottesville, Va. Christian Hackenberg was 7 when his family moved. "I remember everything about it," Christian said of Pennsylvania. "My grandparents lived next to us. I grew up on the sidelines with my dad and grandpa because they coached. My dad had a football in my hand since I could throw it. "He was pretty much my idol growing up." The father knew the kid was special. He worked him hard, such as ironing out the boy's awkward throwing motion. He tutored him on the mental aspect of playing the most important position. "Like how to handle myself when the game's on the line," Christian Hackenberg said. "You could say I thrive on pressure now. It's something I use to heighten my level of play." The father pushed him to Fork Union Military Academy for the education, the coaching and the exposure. Plus, it was only a 15-minute drive from home so he didn't have to board. The father even pushed him to play multiple sports. Christian was on pace to become a 1,000-point scorer in basketball until he gave it up this season. He also could be a Division I baseball talent as a center fielder and shortstop.
The focus, of course, is that he's a national football recruit. He just happens to have a father who dreamed of playing at Penn State. Now, Penn State is making a full press for him. "It's pretty cool. They've really gotten after it," Christian Hackenberg said about the interest from O'Brien and his staff. "I talked to my grandmom, and she was saying how everyone in my hometown is talking about it, how I could go to Penn State. It would be a great opportunity and great fit for me. . . . I can't wait to go up there and see what they have to say." Will the Lions win out in the end? At least the chances are promising, considering that Christian is a pro-style quarterback and O'Brien is being touted as an offensive expert running a pro-style attack. Erick Hackenberg understands the fit, too, and stays in his son's ear, just like he did when the Jerry Sandusky child-sex-abuse scandal broke and the negative recruiting against Penn State began. "He gives me his 40-plus years of wisdom," Christian said with a laugh. "He makes the big picture stand out for me." Which may just lead him to the place his father never got to go.
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Frank Bodani is a sports reporter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow him @YDRPennState; reach him at 771-2104 or firstname.lastname@example.org