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July 27, 2013

O'Brien sees immediate potential in Hackenberg

Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has repeatedly stated his intention to select a quarterback between competitors Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg this preseason, and then stick with that decision.

As he revealed in Chicago, the tentative plan is to come to a decision by the 14th or 15th practice of the preseason session, but more specifically, he discussed some of the facets that will go into the process of making the pick.

Without saying which scenarios is most likely with his two current competitors, O'Brien did lay out how, in his mind, these competitions usually play themselves out.

"Sometimes you come in and you've got two guys that are competing, and they're both having good days and they're both pretty even. Then you have to do what's best for the team, in your own opinion, but it is a little bit more of a labor to figure that out," O'Brien said in Chicago. "Whereas, there's other times where after five or six practices, you just know, 'This guy is the guy.' He's instinctive, he's accurate, he's picking it up, he's great in the meetings, he's out on the field, he's a positive guy, he's a good leader and you just know that that's your guy.

"So, we'll have to see how it goes. Again, it's funny, everybody thinks we've coached Christian. We haven't even coached him yet because he officially just got here for the summer bridge program. We're excited about coaching both of these guys."

Of course, regardless of O'Brien's insistence at having not already personally coached Hackenberg yet - an indisputable fact - the reality remains that he is intimately familiar with Hackenberg, his abilities, and at least, how he projects to perform upon officially duking it out in preseason practice on August 5.

Dating back to his time as the offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots while splitting time as Penn State's new head coach, O'Brien took an intense interest in Hackenberg.

"I was in New England. I was hired at Penn State, I think we had finished the regular season, we were getting ready for the playoffs, we had a bye week, and I just remember there about that time period, I watched a lot of quarterbacks in the '13 recruiting class, and he stood out to me right away as probably one of the top two or three in the country that, I personally, my eye, saw on film that I thought was really good," he said. "That was just I think Billy Kavanaugh back at Penn State. You have the deal on the internet now where they can email you the HUDL stuff, so you can get fifty plays on a kid. I was watching it at my desk in New England."

What he saw was indicative of a high school football player with the capacity to do great things at the college level, O'Brien said.

Between the on-film talent and a structured, disciplined background that suggested a maturity much-desired out of the natural leadership quarterback position, O'Brien immediately became fan.

"I could tell that he was a good decision-maker," O'Brien said. "I remember it was a long tape. It wasn't just a highlight tape, so I could tell that he was a good decision-maker. I felt mechanically he was solid. I felt that he was accurate. I could tell on film that he was a bigger guy, which I liked. He could see over the trees.

"I liked the fact that he went to Fork Union Military School, because I felt like he was going to be a disciplined kid, because that's not an easy place to go to school. You actually march there. If you get in trouble, you're marching for days there. It's a tough place to go to school. You wear a uniform and all that. All those things kind of stood out to me right in the beginning."

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