The legend just keeps on growing.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg captured yet another accolade Tuesday night, earning the Big Ten Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award.
Hackenberg was the second consecutive Penn State player to haul in the honor with defensive end Deion Barnes winning last season.
Hackenberg spoke on Big Ten Network after being announced the winner, talking specifically about the struggles and breakthroughs he had in 2013.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Hackenberg said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but a lot of great guys around me and coaches around me helped me succeed this year and build upon my skillset. They’re going to continue to do that for the next couple of years here.”
As the starting quarterback from start to finish this season, Hackenberg made an instant impact under center.
The 6-foot-4 gunslinger finished with 2,955 passing yards, which was good for second most in the conference and was the third-best single-season total in Penn State history.
Despite tossing 10 interceptions, Hackenberg finished with 20 passing touchdowns — tied for second most in the Big Ten — and chipped in four rushing scores.
Hackenberg posted a below-average completion percentage of 58.9 percent, but heaved the second-most passing attempts in the conference (392) — a testament to his durability as an 18-year-old passer.
Sure, Hackenberg experienced the ebbs and flows of being a first-year collegiate quarterback, littered with mistakes an inexperienced freshman is bound to make. The quarterback acknowledged some of those shortcomings, saying on BTN that he’s looking to improve the “little things,” like footwork and accuracy.
But Hackenberg said what he struggled with most was adjusting to starting at quarterback on the big stage — quite the step up from playing at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.).
“The most challenging part for me was handling all the expectations that came with being quarterback at a program like Penn State. You really don’t understand the bigness of it,” Hackenberg said. “I was playing small high school football in central Virginia last year. So stepping into this kind of environment was definitely different.”
Hackenberg did well to handle the spotlight, producing several bright spots along the way, including the final drive of regulation against Michigan and Saturday’s four-touchdown showing against Wisconsin in the season finale upset win.
Those highlights have been honored throughout the season, as Hackenberg took in five Big Ten offensive freshman of the week honors in 2013.
When asked what his best memory of 2013 was, Hackenberg said the Michigan and Wisconsin games, for obvious reasons.
“The Michigan game. Four overtimes. That was spectacular. Then, there was Wisconsin,” Hackenberg said. “We were able to send [the seniors] out with a win...To send them out right was big for us.”
John McGonigal can be reached at (814) 865-1828 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jmcgonigal9.