Hackenberg moving forward with Franklin

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
9:00
AM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg stood in the center of Penn State's weight room, three days after first meeting his new head coach, and calmly brushed off concern about taking a step back.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg says he's looking forward to working with new Penn State coach James Franklin.
He didn't yet have a playbook to study. He wasn't yet certain whom his quarterback coach would be. And he shrugged when asked about coach James Franklin's philosophy. But the rising sophomore, who's been on campus for seven months, told a tightly packed circle of reporters that he still knew he was ready for whatever came next.

"Nothing's changed in my mindset," he said Wednesday. "Coach Franklin is going to work with our strengths, and a lot of our strengths were what Coach [Bill] O'Brien was running last year. So I don't feel there's going to be too much change. We're just going to go forward."

The Big Ten freshman of the year is forced to go with feel instead of facts at this early point. Hackenberg twice fielded calls from Franklin back when the high-energy coach hoped to sway him to Vanderbilt, but those brief talks were their only communication until a sit-down Sunday meeting -- in an office that, three weeks ago, held a photo of O'Brien posing alongside Tom Brady.

"I wasn't hoping to get any answer," Hackenberg said, while weights clanged in the background. "I was just sitting down trying to get to know my new coach."

This first week must feel a bit surreal for the young quarterback and his Nittany Lions. The blue-lettered mantras covering the weight-room walls -- Hair on Fire, One Team, Iron Lion, etc. -- are left over from the old staff, but the familiar faces from just last month are nearly all gone. Some of the assistant strength coaches have returned, but the men who persuaded Hackenberg to pass over Alabama and Georgia for a school mired in sanctions have since handed in their resignations.

Hackenberg didn't initially enroll in Penn State for the rolling valleys or for the fans who recognized him by the thousands. He came for O'Brien. But now, he said, he's staying for other reasons.

"After you finally get on campus and get to build a relationship with the guys and people here, it's tough to leave," he said. "It's a special place, and people really don't understand that until they step up here and are really a part of it. It's not only me; I think almost every single guy in that locker room feels the same way."

When asked whether he ever considered transferring, or whether the thought even crossed his mind, Hackenberg quickly responded: "I didn't." He paused for several seconds afterward, waiting for the next question. He didn't feel that one needed anymore elaboration.

Franklin told the media on Saturday he expected to use a multiple pro-style offense, something that fits Hackenberg well. But little else is known at this point. Hackenberg tried to take that all in stride, saying he learned one playbook, and he'll learn another again.

Some things are sure to carry over, although the verbiage will likely change along with the coaches he's taking instruction from. Still, he stepped on campus last June and took over the starting job in August after transitioning from a simple high school offense.

At least this time around, he has a full offseason to prepare. And he won't have to sit at his kitchen table, between baseball practices, while studying flash cards of O'Brien's offensive plays.

"People come and go," Hackenberg said. "But you can never forget what each one teaches you, and you got to be more excited when you get the next guy.

"And I think Coach Franklin is a great fit here."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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