Backup quarterback McSorley creating buzz at Penn State
As he sat in James Franklin's new office at Penn State, Trace McSorley counted to three in his head and committed to his coach for a second time. It happened so quickly that McSorley's parents, sitting beside him in the meeting, didn't even know what was coming.
"Whoa, whoa," said Trace's father, Rick, who played football at Richmond. "Are you sure?"
The quarterback, who already had said yes to Franklin and his staff at Vanderbilt, felt certain about this second choice.
"Knowing that the whole [Vanderbilt] staff had come up here, and I'm already comfortable with them, it was pretty much everything I wanted there — at a place like Penn State," McSorley said. "The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a no-brainer."
Nineteen months later, McSorley holds a unique position on Penn State's quarterback depth chart. The redshirt freshman is the No. 2 quarterback behind Christian Hackenberg, with true freshman Tommy Stevens giving chase as well.
John Donovan, Penn State's offensive coordinator, said McSorley is poised to contribute this season as long as he can "think and play fast." As McSorley proved in Franklin's office, thinking fast comes easily.
McSorley, a 6-foot, 196-pound quarterback from Ashburn, Va., compiled a winning resume at Briar Woods High. A four-year starter, McSorley went 55-5 and guided his team to four state-championship games, winning three. He compiled more than 12,000 yards of offense and 150 career touchdowns.
Still, about half of the college coaches — including then-Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop — who scouted McSorley saw him as a safety. In fact, McSorley said, Shoop (now Penn State's defensive coordinator) offered him a scholarship at Vanderbilt to play defense. Then Franklin and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne stepped in, making clear they saw McSorley as a quarterback.
"The reasons why were, he has great feet, he's incredibly accurate and, more important, he's a winner," said Rahne, now Penn State's quarterbacks coach. "A smart kid who has great feet and is accurate with the ball, you can win a lot of games with a guy like that."
Franklin's and Rahne's faith in McSorley's quarterbacking skills meant plenty to him. So, when Franklin took the Penn State job in early 2014, McSorley accepted the coach's second recruiting pitch.
"To be honest, I was a little upset when that happened," McSorley said. "I didn't know exactly what to do. Coach Franklin called and said, 'Hey, man, sorry for how all that went down, but we still really like your ability and want you to come check out Penn State.'"
Though he had attended a football camp at Penn State, McSorley said he knew little about the program other than "Paterno and tradition." But on a mid-January visit, when he toured Beaver Stadium for the first time, McSorley switched his commitment. One point remained consistent in the coaches' pitch.
"They wouldn't even let me talk to coach Shoop," McSorley said. "They wanted me as a quarterback. And they wanted me to know that they wanted me as a quarterback. It told me that they believe in what I do. Having a coaching staff believe in what I could do as a quarterback was really big for me."
Last year, McSorley climbed to the No. 2 spot but ultimately redshirted, a decision he said helped him acclimate to college. During that time he studied how Hackenberg handled a variety of situations, including the criticism the quarterback faced from outside the program.
"Seeing how he persevered through that was good for me to see what's going to come with the territory of being a quarterback at this level." McSorley said.
McSorley characterized himself as an athletic quarterback who can make plays with his feet, but not as a running quarterback. He prides himself on throwing accuracy and is fiercely competitive when he and Hackenberg test their skills by throwing footballs into buckets.
McSorley did not play in the Blue-White game because he was being tested for meningitis (the tests were negative). Still, Franklin raved over the quarterback's development, both last year and this past spring.
McSorley gave the defense "fits" during two-minute drills, Franklin said, and both made throws and extended plays by running.
"I do think there's a lot of confidence [in McSorley], not just on the staff but with the players," Franklin said. "There's a little bit of a buzz in our program about Trace. People believe in him."