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Quarterback recruit ready to earn his keep at Penn State

JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State

Christian Veilleux has plenty of reason to believe in himself as a quarterback.

The high school senior — and lone quarterback in Penn State's 2020 recruiting class — has the arm talent and upside to find immense success in the Big Ten. He can make most throws and should be able to make any he's asked to once he adds more strength in college.

The incoming freshman quarterback — who was born in Canada but moved to Maryland to play football — has the ability to be the team's starting quarterback someday, but he knows he still has work to do to get there.

"Every single part of my game has to improve," Veilleux told the Centre Daily Times about where he wants to get better. "The main parts that have to improve for me are being accurate on the run and I think one of the most important parts, too, is the cerebral part of the game. Breaking down coverages, being able to react on the fly before the snap, it's all stuff I'm working on for sure."

His awareness of where he needs to get better and the arm talent he shows off as he zips passes into the waiting hands of teammates in his high school film make him an ideal candidate to lead Penn State offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca's offense in the future as his first hand-picked recruit at the position.

Confident in his abilities: Don't let Veilleux's humility and self-awareness fool you, though. While he knows he has areas to work on, he also knows what he can do to teams at his current level.

"I feel comfortable in the pocket," he said. "I definitely throw before I run, but if I have to I can (run) ... Dropping back and torching a defense is definitely what I love to do."

Veilleux will be the first quarterback chosen by Ciarrocca to join the roster at Penn State, but the Nittany Lions' pursuit of the high school senior began long before the offensive coordinator arrived on campus.

He remembers his first time on campus in Happy Valley at a camp — when he was in eighth grade.

"Shoot, I've been talking to Penn State for a long time," Veilleux said. "I don't even remember when the first time they contacted me was ... I've been going there a lot over the years."

Long relationship with PSU: That began a relationship between Veilleux and the Penn State coaching staff that has continued even though the staff has changed. The Canadian quarterback, who played his high school football at The Bullis School, built a relationship with former offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne before he left to take the head coach position at Old Dominion.

Even with the change, Veilleux maintained interest in the program and the offense. Once Ciarrocca was brought in, Veilleux's interest increased. He saw the coordinator's offense at Minnesota and knew he could find success in it.

"What (Minnesota quarterback) Tanner Morgan was doing at Minnesota in Coach Ciarrocca's offense is definitely something I can do," Veilleux said. "When you tie in the Penn State element, it's got a lot of QB runs in there, and that's definitely stuff I can do, too. I feel like this offense and the Penn State way of doing stuff gels together well for me."

The interest remained high on Penn State's end as well. Ciarrocca, a Red Land High School graduate, had familiarity with him from his time at Minnesota and, according to Penn State offensive recruiting coordinator/co-offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Tyler Bowen, saw a fit for what he wanted to do with the Nittany Lions' offense.

"Christian is a guy that as a program we had been recruiting for a while," Bowen said. "It really was just a match for what we were looking to do schematically and his skillset. You look at this class, it was very valuable to have information and live (evaluations) on a guy like Christian. We had targeted him early on and it just turned out that his skillset and what we were looking for, for a quarterback for the program also matched what we wanted to do offensively."

Making his commitment: The relationship between future offensive coordinator and future quarterback turned into a commitment April 29. That was when Veilleux knew what he wanted to do. He woke up one morning and knew it was time, so he told his parents.

Once he reaffirmed his decision after they pressed him on it, he made the call. Ultimately, it was about an on-field fit and off-field plan to succeed for the high school senior.

He knew Penn State was the place for him, even though Clemson and Duke were also chasing him, because the distance from home — only a seven-hour drive for his family — academics and on-field fit made him feel comfortable with his college choice.

"COVID has made me realize how important being around family is," Veilleux said. "Their business program and the help that they provide student-athletes with is great. The football coaching staff and campus overall is up there with the best schools in the country. Penn State has the opportunity to win a national championship, which is what I'm looking for."

Helping to build the recruiting class: After his commitment, Veilleux knew he would have to be a part of building the rest of the 2020 class. He took to talking to other high school seniors as the Nittany Lions built their class for this season, including four-star wide receiver Lonnie White Jr., who signed with Penn State but will have to decide between college and professional baseball this summer.

The Nittany Lion staff took notice of the effort he put in and director of player personnel Andy Frank said the quarterback's leadership role fit the position he plays.

"The quarterback is always gonna be a guy (that leads)," Frank said about the class. "Christian is another guy that people tend to gravitate to as one of those glue guys."

Now focusing on future: Now that most of the class is locked up with 15 commits on board and only a few key targets remaining, the high school senior's focus can shift to the future. He didn't play his senior season after Maryland postponed high school athletics in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic and will enroll at Penn State in January to get a head start on his learning curve.

His decision to get to campus early could potentially help him see the field as early as possible, although that's unlikely to be this season. The young quarterback has plenty of upside but still needs to work on the areas he cited to become a starter in the Big Ten.

Still, his looming enrollment will allow for him to learn the playbook and Ciarrocca's full offense in time for spring practice. The head start will still likely lead to a redshirt year but will help position him for the long run. Veilleux is ready to take the field as soon as he can, but knows he'll have to put the work in to earn his playing time.

Aiming for national title: Whenever that time comes, the senior quarterback knows what he wants to do and what he want to accomplish when he has the chance to take snaps as a Nittany Lion.

"I just want to win a national championship," he said. "That's the ultimate goal. People say a Heisman would be nice, but if you're not winning, that doesn't matter."

His time to lead the team may be years down the road, but Veilleux will be ready.

In a year when Penn State faced plenty of tumult at the quarterback position, the Nittany Lions landed a signal caller who has the talent, humility and confidence to lead them into the future.