Throughout this offseason, we’ll spotlight Class of 2013 quarterbacks who have a shot at making the Elite 11 finals in July. This week we profile Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, Va.) signal-caller Christian Hackenberg.
It’s no mystery that Pennsylvania has been known to produce prolific quarterbacks. While it’s clear that great talent at the position can come from all over the nation, a strong debate can be made for the Keystone State as the premier source for signal-callers.
While Christian Hackenberg plays his ball in Virginia for Fork Union Military Academy, his roots are in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where his father played quarterback for Marian Catholic (Tamaqua, Pa.) and earned a scholarship to Virginia. His grandfather also coached high school football for 25 years.
Hackenberg, an ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect, has plans on returning to the state where he lived until he was seven, as the 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback was the first verbal commitment of the Class of 2013 for coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State.
We spoke with Hackenberg about his plans this offseason and more specifically his goals in the Elite 11 QB competition.
ESPNHS: What is the key attribute that a successful quarterback must possess?
Hackenberg: Mental control of the game is what I think is most important. This begins with preparation. You need to be able to understand each and every situation that you’ll face in the course of a game. You need to be able to make the plays with your brain before you make them physically. I definitely go through mental preparation before each game and take the lessons from my coaches and the films and get in mental reps before we even hit the field.
ESPNHS: How has attending a military academy versus a more traditional school environment prepared you both for college and in your approach to your game?
Hackenberg: The academics here are really strong and you have to learn how to manage your own time and schedule in terms of getting everything done. You learn to work within a very disciplined structure, which I think can only help for when I face the demands of a college schedule. You are used to budgeting your time and getting things done when you have to, which will help set me up for the college experience.
ESPNHS: Is there a QB out there that you really appreciate?
Hackenberg: I like to look at myself as my own type of player, and that my skills and approach are unique to me. But I have been compared by a few coaches to Jay Cutler in just how I play, and that of course is flattering. It’s an obvious one, but I really love watching Peyton Manning and how he checks down and adjusts and just shows how prepared and even ahead of the game he can be out there. His understanding of the game is just as important, if not more, than the physical gifts.
ESPNHS: What is your general goal for this offseason and, more specifically, what are you looking to get out of the Elite 11 experience?
Hackenberg: I’m always trying to get bigger, faster and stronger each offseason and improve myself as an overall athlete. Then there’s specific stuff I work on like my fundamentals — my release, arm slot and different drops. With Elite 11, I want to make it to the final 11 and compete on that high level.
ESPNHS: What was your impression as you watched the Elite 11 specials that aired on ESPN this past summer?
Hackenberg: I think that the intensity that coach (Trent) Dilfer brings to the situation is great and how he puts quarterbacks in awkward situations under a lot of pressure. It makes you better, and clearly you are a top quarterback if you make it out there, but I really look forward to being tested at that level and pushing my game to improve.
ESPNHS: Being the first commitment of your class to Penn State, what made you comfortable and confident in the decision?
Hackenberg: Once I met coach (Bill) O’Brien I felt really comfortable. I had been to games at Penn State before and I always knew through my family what the tradition and culture of football there has been, but once I went up there and met the staff and with coach O’Brien I just felt like it was right for me. It was great to meet Adam Breneman up there and to know that some other talented guys from my class had strong interest really made me confident in what could be accomplished there. I looked at it like I could spearhead the process of trying to build the class. I look at it like a challenge trying to build a strong class after everything the school and program have been through.
School: Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, Va.)
College: Penn State
2011 Team Record: 4-6
Completions-Attempts: 171-341 (.501)