FORK UNION, Va. -- Christian Hackenberg knows some fans still wonder whether he'll sign a letter of intent with Penn State, and ESPN's No. 1-rated passer wanted to reassure them.
"I'm sticking with Penn State. I am a Nittany Lion," he said. "100 percent."
NittanyNation recently sat down with Hackenberg to discuss why he remains committed and what his recruiting process has been like.
NittanyNation: You committed in late February. The sanctions hit in July. Why have you remained committed to Penn State?
Christian Hackenberg: Nothing has changed for me in terms of what I want to do in college, other than I'm just not going to be able to be in a bowl game -- which, yeah, in the grand scheme of things, that's something everyone else will be able to do do and maybe it would be cool. But I can still get developed by one of the best developers in the country and move onto the NFL and have a great degree if everything sort of falls in line. And academically, and from a social standpoint, nothing's changed as well.
So, if I feel like nothing important's really changed, why would my commitment change?
NN: Let's rewind a little bit. The old staff didn't recruit you at all; just how late did Penn State enter the picture?
CH: Yeah. It was kind of weird because by the end of my junior year, I had sort of done everything. It was January, and we actually had a guy who worked for the PG [Post-Graduate] team, and he coached me my sophomore year and was like, 'Hey I know [Bill] O'Brien. You want me to send some film up?' And I was like, why not? I had already really had my list set down to four, five schools that I was really interested in -- but I figured why not?
So, a couple days later, Coach [Charles] London came down and talked to my coach and I got my offer. So I figured I'd check it out.
NN: How soon did you drive up to Happy Valley?
CH: I went to their junior day Feb. 17, sort of just to get a feel for whole campus. I mean, I had been to games up there when I was younger. I knew what it was all about. ... I knew that whole aspect; I just really didn't know the intricacies of the program with the coaching staff and the facilities. And, of course, I hadn't really been able to walk around campus and see what everyone was going through as students and that type of thing.
After that visit, I really had that gut feeling it was the right place. I walked around Alabama, I walked around Miami and the other schools I was really considering, and I never really got that gut feeling that this is the school I'm supposed to be at -- not like Penn State.
NN: When did you first get that "gut feeling"? Was it when you first stepped foot on campus or talked to O'Brien?
CH: It just sort of built up throughout the day. I got there, and I was like, OK, this is just going to be another recruiting visit. But I got some one-on-one time with Coach O'Brien and I was like, 'All right' -- I really got a feel for it. Then I started walking around campus with a couple students and as I walked around, I really got a feeling that this is somewhere I'd like to be. If I got hurt and couldn't play football for the rest of my career, I'd be happy going to school there.
So, at the end of the day, I was thinking on it with my dad, my grandpa and my brother and I told them I really wanted to go there.
NN: It took you about two weeks before committing. Why did you decide to wait?
CH: Well, I told my dad I really think I want to go to Penn State, and he was like, 'Just sit on it.' And I said all right because he had gone through the same thing. When he was getting recruited, he wanted to go to Duke. Steve Spurrier was recruiting him to go to Duke, and he had just finished talking to Steve Spurrier and told his dad he really wanted to go down and tell Coach he was coming. My grandfather was like, "Just sit on it. You've got one more visit to UVa.' And he ended up going to UVa. So that's something he had learned from his experience and passed down to me.
So I called a few coaches after that, but I still really wanted to go to Penn State.
NN: I've heard some college coaches compared to used-car salesmen. Is that at all how it was with those phone calls or with your recruitment?
CH: Yeah, that's how it is. They'll just tell you what every teenager would like to hear. They'll be like, 'Hey, man, you can come down for us and play this Saturday. Just come on and visit. I want you to commit.' You have to be critical, keep an open mind and be realistic about what a lot of coaches say to you.
But, at the end of the day, Coach O'Brien was honest with me. He was never shady, he always told me the truth so -- after I sat on it for two weeks -- I still had that gut feeling, and I was like I really want to go up there.
NN: So, was O'Brien kind of the X-factor that pushed you over the edge?
CB: Yup, I'd have to say Coach O'Brien was the X-factor for me. He's in a unique situation, and with a lot of schools recruiting me, I wouldn't spend a lot of time with the head coach. So having the opportunity to work with Coach O'Brien, it's something that I like. Being able to work with him, who's worked with Tom Brady and who can really direct me with the terminology and everything, it's great.
With that offense that Coach O'Brien's brought in -- and I see what he's done with [Matt] McGloin in such a short period of time -- I'm going to have the opportunity to be fully developed. On top of that, it's such a great school socially and academically. [Fork Union] Coach [Micky] Sullivan has always told me if you can't play a down of football because you have some sort of traumatic football injury, would you be happy going to school there?
And, ultimately, I would.