UNIVERSITY PARK — Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, dressed in a white Manning Passing Academy T-shirt with a black Elite 11 Quarterback Competition ball cap on the leather chair next to him, is back in Happy Valley and ready for his junior season.
Sitting the in Lasch Football Building Wednesday afternoon, Hackenberg stretched, grabbed a bottle of water and settled in for his next round of quarterback duties. No, it's not passing drills or a conditioning workout, rather time for another round of interviews about his busy summer and the Penn State offense.
"I was kind of in quarterback heaven there for a week or so," Hackenberg said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hackenberg served as a counselor at Elite 11 and also at the Manning Passing Academy this month, coaching young athletes and fine tuning his own game by learning from some of the best in the NFL.
Hackenberg picked the brains of Peyton Manning and Eli Manning about restructuring his own game-week routine, tweaking a formula of preparation and practice habits that he has tweaked since his arrival at Penn State in 2013. As an Elite 11 counselor, rather than a high school participant like the now 20-year-old was not too long ago, he worked on his footwork and acted as a resource for the current batch of top high school quarterbacks.
The setting an example part comes naturally to Hackenberg, who has three younger brothers, one of whom verbally pledged last week to play soccer at Penn State. Not wanting to weigh the Elite 11 campers down with too much information, Hackenberg thought back to how now Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel helped to counsel him at the camp a few years ago.
"He never told me what exactly to do, but he'd throw out suggestions and kind of let you pick and choose what you wanted to learn from it and how you wanted to use it," Hackenberg said. "He was a great resource, and that's what I tried to do."
Not thinking about NFL: The Penn State junior, whose big right arm already has him climbing up NFL mock drafts, said he's not thinking beyond this season. Asked about his potential NFL future, Hackenberg smiled, looked down at the table and answered.
"It's just really focusing on what I can do right now, one day at a time," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."
He laughs when asked how many times he'll be asked a similar question between now and the end of the season.
"That's all I say on that," he said.
'One of the guys': Within these walls of the football building Hackenberg said he's just "one of the guys." Between workouts with teammates, a few rounds of golf and more football conditioning, Hackenberg said he's ready to build off the high note the team ended on last season with a 31-30 overtime victory against Boston College at the Pinstripe Bowl.
Hackenberg has held Tuesday night meetings with the offense and chats with senior center Angelo Mangiro about the offensive line's improvements any time he can. After absorbing 44 sacks last season and throwing a career-worst 15 interceptions, the former five-star prospect said he still uses film from last season as a teaching tool and is confident this year will be an upgrade.
Receiving corps: His wide receiving corps, complete with redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, redshirt junior Geno Lewis and sophomores Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, are taking the next step. So, too, are the tight ends where sophomore Mike Gesicki, redshirt sophomore Adam Breneman and senior Kyle Carter are back.
"We're really starting to talk the same language which is huge," Hackenberg said. "In terms of defenses and understanding how we want to attack. if I ask them to do something, they really understand what it is. And that comes from being able to watch it on film and being able to translate it and talk and studying defenses together."
For now, Fall camp is less than two weeks away, and the most recognizable student-athlete in State College is all smiles about whatever this junior season might bring.