NittanyNation turned to one of the people who knows most what Hackenberg is capable of on the field -- Micky Sullivan, his high school coach at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy -- and asked what separates him as a player, how he first noticed Hackenberg's ability and when he especially showcased his potential.
QB Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.), 4 stars, No. 1 at position 6-foot-4, 212 pounds
Sullivan, on what separates Hackenberg from others at his position: "I really think it's a combination. Being at the Under-Armour Game, I had a chance to watch some of those other guys, and they're all good athletes. But I think Christian is really balanced. He's 6-foot-4 now and he's about 220. He's athletic, can run and has an exceptional arm and the ability to make all the throws. He can move around in the pocket, plus he's smart and competitive. And guys will follow him -- so it's just a combination.
"There's a lot of guys who can throw but, from what I've been able to watch, he's done it all -- and he's won. He's really improved his mental and physical toughness."
When he first knew Hackenberg would be special: "Well, it was fun for me to watch him develop. He came in here his sophomore year, and I thought he's got a chance to be pretty good. But if a high school coach tells you, 'I know he'd be one of the very best,' they're lying. I had no clue he would be that good.
"Really, it was about halfway through his sophomore year. We were playing him some because we had a kid who was a returning starter who had gotten us into the playoffs the year before -- who's now the starting quarterback at the University of Toronto -- and Christian came in and slowly but surely won the job from him and stepped into that. He started out as a change-of-pace guy that we'd put in for two or three minutes to run the spread, and then we'd take him out. But, slowly but surely, that morphed into something we did more and more. You could see the growth in Christian. He was a guy who was a little tentative in the huddle to a guy who would come to the sideline and argue with you about what you need to do. And you need that in a quarterback; you can't have a timid quarterback.
"It's like a closer in baseball. He has to believe he's going to make every throw against every team. And he does -- that's what makes him so good."
When Hackenberg surprised him or really showcased his ability: "We played Loyola Blakefield out of Baltimore in the middle of the season his junior year, and we pretty much had no running game. Christian threw 60 times, and it was one of those games where you're standing there watching him making throw after throw and comeback after comeback -- and you're just saying, 'Wow.' Because, really up until that point, we knew going into that game we had to throw that much -- but we really didn't know he could throw that much.
"We battled them neck and neck, and it was a heck of a football game. It was one of those days where we realized he was pretty dadgum good and had the ability to be really good. [Stats: 23-of-60, 299 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs.] From then on, the question wasn't, 'Can he be good?' It was, 'Just how good?' "