Sometimes I’m not sure how I became so fiercely loyal to Penn State. I grew up watching the Nittany Lions on TV with my dad (class of ’69 and ’70). I’m told I claimed the only thing worse than going to bed early was having to watch Penn State football with Dad. In the summer, my parents would take us camping at Parker Dam State Park. We’d take a day trip to the main campus for Highway pizza and Creamery ice cream. Somewhere along the way I decided Penn State was the only school for me. Even with the possibility of scholarships elsewhere, I remained loyal.
I’m not the only one, by far. Over the last two years we’ve discovered which of us are true Penn Staters. So many alumni, former players, and friends have stayed loyal. They’ve put on their Penn State gear and marched through their daily lives, daring the haters to mention it. We’re a loyal people. We bleed blue. We understand why the sky is blue and white. We are one heart that loves thy name. One team.
That’s why Christian Hackenberg’s story both relatable and inspirational.
Hackenberg was a kid in coal-country Pennsylvania watching Penn State, before his family moved to Virginia. Both of his parents were college athletes and Hackenberg credits them with instilling in him the value of loyalty and education. He told his high school football coach that he wanted to play Division I college football and proceeded to become the top-rated quarterback in the country. Penn State was on his short list.
Imagine a high school student, dreaming of a future at Penn State, when everything falls apart: no respect, no due process, no bowl games. This kid is standing at childhood’s gate, with offers from Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Miami, Rutgers, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. He could have looked at the bleak possibilities at Penn State and chosen one of his many offers.
Christian Hackenberg could have gone anywhere. He chose Penn State and he stuck by his decision. Why? Because he values loyalty. Because he wants a great education. Because like many true Penn Staters who have come before, he finds himself standing at childhood’s gate, shapeless in the hands of fate.
And he too will be molded into a young man by Dear Old State. He joins Shorty Miller (1910) and Rob Bolden (2010) as the only true freshman quarterbacks ever to start for Penn State. His hopes are bright and free.
In two weeks, conference play begins against the 2-2 Indiana Hoosiers. I’m loyaly calling it now: Christian Hackenberg is going to lead Penn State to its next national championship in 2016.
For the future that we wait, Raise the song, Raise the song.