A big quarterback with a bright future, Christian Hackenberg has emerged as a star on a talented Fork Union squad. The Penn State commitment is one of the most heralded QB prospects in the nation.
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Christian Hackenberg has a do-it-all mentality, and sometimes that gets him into trouble on the field. He admits that ferocity is part of his nature, and that limiting it can be difficult.
"It's part of me," Hackenberg said. "I want to be the guy like Brett Favre with risk and reward. It's worked out for me, but it's bit me in the butt a couple of times too."
Fork Union (Va.) head coach Micky Sullivan loves his quarterback's aggressiveness. And how could he not? Hackenberg is 6-foot-4 with impeccable footwork, an accurate arm and unflappable confidence. He has led his team to a 10-2 record and a rematch with one of its key rivals in the state finals this weekend. But sometimes, his doggedness can result in turnovers.
Sullivan pauses and chuckles before revealing that he actually likes some of Hackenberg's mistakes. Though it seems counterintuitive, Sullivan respects that Hackenberg's mistakes are often the result of too much effort, not a lack of it.
"I say this kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I don't know that there are many plays that he can't make as a quarterback," Sullivan said. "Sure, sometimes he is his own worst enemy, but a lot of times he'll make a play and I'll look at the coach next to me and ask, 'Well, how did he do that?'"
The spectacular plays occur frequently. This year, Hackenberg says he's absorbed the offense, which has allowed him to find third and fourth receivers as well as run the ball with success. But as late November approaches, he is running out of time on the high school gridiron.
Hackenberg is trying to perfect his skills so he can rocket up the Penn State depth chart once he arrives in State College this summer. He committed to the Nittany Lions in February and has maintained his pledge throughout the crippling NCAA sanctions and fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Recruiting analysts have projected -- and at times even seemed to want -- Hackenberg to decommit. He will have none of it.
In fact, not only is he adamant about his commitment to Penn State, but he believes the Nittany Lions will succeed under coach Bill O'Brien. Plus, the offense fits his mentality.
"Coach O'Brien's offense is really great because it puts a lot on the quarterback," Hackenberg said. "I look forward to getting the ball up the field fast and keep going. I think it's an offense that suits my skill set."
O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher have made current starter Matt McGloin startlingly efficient this season and developed a hybrid offense that blends quick snaps with traditional I-formations and power sets. Sullivan lauds Hackenberg's ability to make both short and long throws and his emerging running game. He thinks that Penn State's coaches are the right men to mold Hackenberg into an elite college quarterback.
"Coach O'Brien and Coach Fisher will teach him that a punt is not a bad play," Sullivan said with a quick laugh. "He just doesn't want to throw the ball away, and sometimes that isn't a bad play to make. He puts so much pressure on himself to be good that he's convinced he has to make a play."
For now, Hackenberg's short-term goal is similar to most stars his age: Go out on top.
"We need to take these two weeks and get to the state championship," Hackenberg said. "Let's just keep grinding."
He's determined to win; it's just in his nature.