Ashburn, VA ( January 14, 2015) – For Penn State, the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. against Georgia on Jan. 2 was supposed to be the glorified going away party for heralded quarterback Christian Hackenburg, the three-year starter leaving the Nittany Lions one year early for the NFL Draft.
The game was in fact the end for Hackenburg, but that conclusion came much earlier than expected. After suffering an injury in the first half, the veteran essentially passed the torch to his protégé, the redshirt freshman Trace McSorley.
McSorley, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound prospect was thrust into the lineup against a stout Bulldog defense, facing a 24-3 deficit that his elder statesman left for him.
The 2014 Briar Woods alum filled in and completely changed the complexion of the game, as the valiant comeback came up just short, as the Nittany Lions eventually fell in a tight one, 24-17.
The Ashburn native will likely be the guy under center next year for a team that has had consecutive 7-6 seasons and continues to feel the effects of the 2012 NCAA sanctions, but he appears to be a bright spot going forward following his two-touchdown, breakout performance.
Current Briar Woods senior tight end and future Duke Blue Devil, Mark Birmingham, spent his first two seasons as a Falcon with McSorley under center.
“As a young player in the program, Trace made me a better player as well as a better person,” Birmingham said. “Also, he always made himself available after practice to work on some extra stuff with receivers and defensive backs.”
According to Birmingham, Trace was a good role model for the entire team, both on and off the gridiron.
“He displayed how to lead a team the right way, and to have a positive impact on the community,” Birmingham said. “He’s the first guy on the field and last off. His relentless work ethic motivated others and made everyone around him better. Trace was always unselfish, he would simply do whatever was necessary to make the team better.”
Following his prep career, McSorley racked up offers from Boston College, Purdue, UNC, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, among others, but was drawn to the opportunity to follow Hackenburg in State College.
“When Trace graduated, I believed he had all the tools he needed to be great,” Birmingham said. “It would only be a matter of time before he had an opportunity to show it.”
After tossing for 142 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in relief on the big stage in EverBank Field against a perennial SEC power, McSorely in fact had his opportunity.
“I was very happy and excited for him because I know how hard he works and how bad he wants to be successful,” Birmingham said.
McSorley and the Nittany Lions have a tough road ahead as they face a 2016 regular season schedule that includes games against Pittsburgh, Temple, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State.
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Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun