The Heir Apparent with a Capital T

The Heir Apparent with a Capital T

It’s never easy replacing a record setter, especially when that record setter plays the position of quarterback. At the same time, it’s a little confusing to the outside world trying to explain that a quarterback that set so many school records was ultimately a square peg trying to fit into a round hole over his last two seasons. Nonetheless, here we are in year three of the Franklin era, on the verge of ushering in a new era of its own. That of a new Penn State offense and a quarterback to run it. After three years at the helm, Christian Hackenberg is now off in the Big Apple, trading in his blue and white for the “Gang Green” of the N.Y. Jets and we all wish him the very best. He was a gentleman and a scholar. The word “warrior” should replace his middle name, but the time has come to appoint his successor; the heir apparent if you will. And whoever wins the job will have a capital T in front of their name. That I can guarantee. Ladies and gents, it’s a two-horse race and it all boils down to two kids named Trace and Tommy.

Reportedly, there is a small gap between the two at the moment but no one has pinned down whether that is that truth or simply common coach speak coming from James Franklin. Trace McSorley has game experience and a nice comeback bid against Georgia to hang his hat on. The redshirt sophomore and three-time state champion from Briar Woods, Virginia followed up his second-half bowl performance by taking the reins in April’s Blue-White game and looking very much like the lead contender. He spent two seasons as Hack's backup and appears to have spent much of that time following the example he left behind. He’s been poised with the press and cool under pressure ever since he took the Lions to the brink of victory back in early January. Barely reaching 6’0”, he’s a little undersized traditionally but is already known as a gamer. Locally, comparisons to Matt McGloin have surfaced because of his never-say-die attitude, and nationally he compares well with another former Big Ten QB in Russell Wilson. Trace was one of the Vanderbilt commits who flipped to Penn State when Franklin became head coach and it appears he is poised to reap the rewards of loyalty.


His competition, Tommy Stevens, spent his freshman season running the scout team and reportedly gave the defense all it could handle. The Indianapolis native has no actual game experience to fall back on but at 6’3” looks more the part of a D-1 quarterback. Not to mention the long blond locks he rolled into Happy Valley with that immediately earned him the nickname, Sunshine. The long hair has since been trimmed, for the record. In April’s spring game, Stevens performed admirably against the first team defense and when given his chance with the starters in the 4th quarter, he led the Blue team to a touchdown. Franklin has reiterated throughout the spring and summer that the so-called gap between Stevens and McSorley is small and he plans to give Tommy every opportunity to close that gap as they both head into training camp. Walk-on Billy Fessler retains his role as the emergency QB, and true freshman, Jake Zembiec, appears destined for a redshirt as the two T’s duke it out for the keys to the offensive machine.

Earlier this year I personally anointed Trace the starter after assessing the spring session and I stand by that today. It’s not a knock on Tommy in any way. He seems to have a good arm, prototypical size, and athletic ability of his own to move the pocket if the line breaks down. All qualities you want in a starting quarterback. Of course, I’m just a blog writer from Virginia and the final decision doesn’t rest with me, it rests with the play caller and head coach. It’s definitely a good problem for James Franklin and Joe Moorhead to have when you have two serviceable QB’s waiting in the wings. Add in Jake Z and you can conceivably make that three, but that will be a battle in and of itself to address next year. No matter who ultimately wins the job, in the hard-nosed game of football, you’re only a play away from being thrust into the spotlight. McSorley can attest to that after watching his predecessor and mentor limp off of the field after absorbing all of those beatings he withstood. The job is his to lose as we head into August, but no matter who is under center on September 3rd versus Kent State, the heir apparent begins with a capital T and we’re in good hands with either one. May the best man win!