Christian Hackenberg doesn’t care what people think.
“I could really care less, to be honest,” said Hackenberg, the nation’s No. 1-rated quarterback prospect on his decision to remain committed to Penn State. “I made a decision that wasn’t just about football. Penn State is bigger than football.”
The four-star senior out of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy reaffirmed his pledge to the Nittany Lions during a Saturday visit to State College, Pa., with five other members of Penn State’s 2013 class.
“The whole experience at the university is bigger than the football program,” Hackenberg said Monday. “That’s what kept me committed. Football is great, but it’s just icing on the cake.”
That’s the new Penn State, apparently. The old Penn State got hammered last week with five years of probation, reducing scholarships by 40 over a four-year period and keeping the school out of the postseason through the 2015 season.
Hackenberg said he was upset upon learning of the sanctions. He talked to coach Bill O’Brien shortly after they were announced by NCAA president Mark Emmert.
“My goal was not to get too emotional about the situation,” Hackenberg said.
He helped arrange the visit to Penn State with tight end Adam Breneman (Camp Hill, Pa./Cedar Cliff), offensive tackle Andrew Nelson (Hershey, Pa./Hershey), defensive end Garrett Sickels (Little Silver, N.J./Red Bank Regional), receiver Will Fuller (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic) and guard Brendan Mahon (Randolph, N.J./Randolph).
All six reaffirmed their commitments, still with more than six months until signing day. Two members of Penn State’s class -- defensive tackle Greg Webb (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek) to North Carolina and cornerback Ross Douglas (Avon, Ohio/Avon) to Michigan -- have decommitted.
PSU actually added a pledge, too, from 2012 linebacker Brennan Franklin (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial). Franklin had planned to begin school at a junior college this fall.
The 2013 recruits met with O’Brien and plan to keep private the details of their conversation, per his request.
“I just wanted to get the whole rundown of how he planned on handling the sanctions, moving forward, and how he planned on keeping them competitive,” Hackenberg said. “He answered those all the right away and let us know this class is a big part of keeping Penn State on the right track.”
Hackenberg’s father, Erick, a former college quarterback at Virginia and the Division-III level, accompanied Christian on the trip.
“Everyone’s got an opinion,” Erick Hackenberg said. “The reality of it is when Christian started getting recruited two years ago, we set five or six parameters in place that were guiding principles for him in choosing a school. None of those have changed.
“We’re going to move forward. We could very easily walk away. Social perception is one thing, but that’s not why he's there.”
Christian Hackenberg said he remains optimistic that he’ll play in a bowl game at Penn State. The Nittany Lions would be eligible in his fourth year, 2016. He may consider a redshirt season next fall to preserve another year of eligibility and potentially stretch his career to 2017.
As for his commitment, it’s as strong as ever, he said.
“I feel like we’re taking on a challenge,” Hackenberg said, “and it’s definitely going to test our character a little bit. But I feel like we got a lot stronger after Saturday.”