At 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley was informed that he would be Penn State football’s next starting quarterback.
He was texted the night before by head coach James Franklin’s secretary, who requested he meet with Franklin the following morning.
He said he slept “fine,” and though he had an idea of what the meeting would be about, he wasn’t nervous — still, he showed up a little early.
“Yeah, I got there about five minutes early,” he laughed. “Just tried to treat it as normal as I could.”
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Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead then very matter-of-factly informed him of their decision. They did not officially inform the team — a “business as usual” policy held by Franklin throughout the years.
The first people McSorley told were his parents, Rick and Andrea, who just happened to be in town as classes started. They went to breakfast as a family, and McSorley shared a bit sheepishly that they hugged him and told him they were proud of him.
“I was excited, it was kind of a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “It’s been a long process since January.”
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That was, of course, when all-time passing leader Christian Hackenberg told a sardine-packed scrum of media members in a dim hallway underneath Jacksonville’s EverBank Field that he, a junior, had decided to declare for the NFL Draft that spring.
McSorley stood just a few feet away in a mini-scrum of his own as Hackenberg broke the news. He had just seen the most game action in his college career after Hackenberg sat out the second half with a shoulder injury, going 14 for 27 with 142 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s comeback effort, which ultimately fell short against Georgia.
As soon as the team finished its brief winter hiatus, McSorley sprang into action, gathering team leaders and designing workout plans with them and other players.
NCAA regulations mandate that coaches can’t organize practices themselves until fall camp. So, for most of the spring and summer, McSorley met with strength coach Dwight Galt and designed a rundown of “optional” workouts and seven-on-seven drills.
“I’ve kind of taken the reins with (Galt) on getting the format for those with him and how those run, and organizing guys to do film sessions and extra workouts outside of what we’ve done,” McSorley said in the spring.
“I’ve mostly been focused on preparing,” he said Wednesday. “Coming in every day, watching film. … Just more getting ready for it than thinking about it all of the time.”
During Penn State’s Blue-White game in the spring, the preparation showed. McSorley was nearly perfect, completing 23 of 27 passes (with only one first-half incompletion) for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
Still, coaches maintained that McSorley was in an ever-more-competitive battle for the job with redshirt sophomore Tommy Stevens upon the arrival of Moorhead and the subsequent installation of the no-huddle uptempo spread the team will run this fall.
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“I know a lot of people thought that that decision (to start Trace) was made in spring ball. It wasn’t,” said Franklin on Wednesday. “Tommy had a really, really good camp. He really improved.It played out the way we thought it’d play out.”
The two quarterbacks, said Franklin, were “statistically close” throughout fall camp, but McSorley’s intangibles and prior experience ultimately earned him the job.
“I think the biggest thing, and Tommy asked the same question, is that (Trace) has been the backup for two years,” said Franklin. “He has game experience. ... There’s value in that. There really is. You’ve been able to see it already. You’re not projecting as much.”
Franklin added that this fall there will not even be a two-quarterback system as some teams implement when two signal-callers have such similar skillsets.
“You always want to have one quarterback, and you don’t want him to be peeking over his shoulder,” said Franklin. “…We are going to try not to have a two-quarterback system while I’m here.”
So it was truly McSorley’s moment, through and through. The young quarterback fought off a small smile as he met the gaggle of more than 40 media members immediately after Franklin made the announcement.
“It’s an honor to be named a starting quarterback at Penn State,” he said. “Since the day I committed here, I’ve always kind of dreamed about it and thought about it. I mean, all of the great quarterbacks that have come out of Penn State, it’s an honor to be included in that group.”