Editor’s note: Every day, from now until Penn State football’s Class of 2017 reports to campus June 24, we’ll highlight a different one of the Nittany Lions’ 17 incoming signees. Today is Day 2 of the 17-day series.
In R. Nelson Snider High School history, Rod Woodson and Mac Hippenhammer set the standard for speed on the football field.
Woodson became a legend in the Fort Wayne, Ind., area, as he went on to earn All-America honors as a defensive back at Purdue and become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. But before he starred in the Big Ten and for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he left his mark at Snider — where he excelled in football, basketball and track and field.
When longtime coaches in the Snider program talk about the fastest players over the years, they now put Hippenhammer in his class.
Hippenhammer has already left quite the legacy as a high school football player at Snider. “He’ll go down as one of the best to ever play at Snider and certainly one of the most enjoyable to be around,” Snider football coach Kurt Tippmann said. But the rest of his career remains ahead of him. He’ll start the next chapter when he arrives at Penn State.
The 5-foot-11 wide receiver is looking to put his speed to use right away for the Nittany Lions, as he’s aiming to compete to earn time this season on special teams as a returner. Hippenhammer will also try to add his name to another conversation involving Woodson — he plans to become a two-sport athlete in the Big Ten. Woodson set Purdue track and field records in the hurdles during his career in addition to playing football, and Hippenhammer is set to play football and baseball for the Nittany Lions.
Opposing teams created special packages to stop Hippenhammer on the football field, sending double coverage his way — but he still found ways to get open. Opposing coaches knew they shouldn’t kick to Hippenhammer, but their teams still did — and Hippenhammer made them pay.
“Any time he touched ball, he could blow the game open,” Tippmann said.
He played all four years on the varsity team and took over games with his receiving and returning ability throughout his career. He set Snider’s record for career receptions and finished his senior year with 1,720 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns. He had three kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns last fall.
Tippmann remembers his team forcing punts with seconds remaining on the clock before halftime and watching Hippenhammer take it back for a touchdown to swing the momentum. The coach watched him do the same on a kickoff after an opponent scored a touchdown late in the first half.
Hippenhammer said returns are one of his favorite parts of the game.
“Once you get it, it’s like freelance and you get to go wherever,” Hippenhammer said. “It’s not like you’re running a route or anything. You get to just sit back there and see what’s open and go with it.”
With his bursts of speed in and out of cuts, Hippenhammer routinely changed games with big plays.
Tippmann said Hippenhammer put together his best game in the state championship his junior year. The wide receiver hauled in six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown and piled up 71 yards on kickoff returns to help Snider capture the state title.
“He was special to watch,” Tippmann said.
Snider baseball coach Marc Skelton watched as Hippenhammer made another play only he could in this year’s sectional finals.
On a pitch in the dirt, Hippenhammer took off from first base to take second with no throw from the opposing catcher. Then, the catcher made an errant throw back the pitcher, and Hippenhammer took off again. With the second baseman taking his time to get the ball, Hippenhammer rounded third base and scored.
“This is 28 years for me and my No. 1 assistant, and we just look at each other and shake our heads,” Skelton said. “He does things on a baseball field that we haven’t seen in 28 years.”
Hippenhammer started at shortstop and hit leadoff in the final three years of his high school baseball career. Skelton said he can hit and field well, but it’s his speed — the same skill that wowed on the football field — that amazes his baseball coach.
“He’s what we like to call a game-changer,” Skelton said. “When he gets on base, he totally changes a game. In the field, there are plays that you’ll just sit there and say, ‘Wow, how did he get there? How did he do that?’”
At the plate, Hippenhammer is a switch-hitter. He learned the skill by spending an entire season hitting left-handed when he was 13. He said he struggled with it the first 10 games that year before he gradually started to improve.
“It just started to feel kind of natural,” Hippenhammer said.
Skelton thinks Hippenhammer has the potential to play shortstop or in the outfield for the Nittany Lions, covering ground with his quickness at either position.
“I hope he continues to play baseball for the time he’s there because he can really play the game,” Skelton said.
Hippenhammer said he’s honored to be mentioned alongside Rod Woodson in Snider’s history.
The incoming freshman’s speed changed games in football and baseball during his high school career, and now he’ll bring that ability to Penn State. While he polishes his skills as a receiver early in his career, he knows he’ll have an opportunity to get on the field as a returner.
“If I play early, that’ll probably be the thing I do because they don’t have anyone right now that can do that, so that’s what I want to try and do is fill in that spot,” Hippenhammer said.
After his standout high school career, Hippenhammer is looking forward to getting started at Penn State and forming relationships with his new teammates.
“I’m really excited for the next chapter of my life and the next move,” Hippenhammer said. “It should be exciting. I can’t wait to be with the team.”
Overview of Mac Hippenhammer
Hometown/high school: Fort Wayne, Ind./R. Nelson Snider
Height/weight: 5-foot-11/170 pounds
Position: Wide receiver
Recruit ranking: 3 stars (247, ESPN, Rivals and Scout)
Other scholarship offers: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest
James Franklin says: “Hippenhammer had as good of a year as anybody in the country returning punts and kicks. Really, really successful. Tremendous feet. Really, really polished already as a wide receiver. He needs to get bigger and stronger.”
Getting advice on playing 2 sports
Mac Hippenhammer reached out to Rutgers’ Jawuan Harris on social media about handling football and baseball in college.
Hippenhammer said he received good advice from Harris, who started eight games for the Scarlet Knights in football last fall and started 49 games for the baseball team this season.
“It’s possible to do it,” Hippenhammer said of Harris’ advice. “It’s tough, but it’s doable.”
Harris has proven himself in both sports at Rutgers, leading the football team in receiving in 2016 and leading the baseball team with eight home runs in 2017.
Going into his career at Penn State, Hippenhammer said football is his priority.
“But I’m going to play both as long as I can,” Hippenhammer said.
Hippenhammer said the ability to play both sports was “one of the big reasons” he chose Penn State. He said it was tough to find schools to support him playing both sports, adding that he had the opportunity at Iowa.
But he chose the Nittany Lions and looks forward to continuing his baseball career at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“I feel like if I just dropped baseball, I’d be wasting a good talent of mine,” Hippenhammer said. “I really wanted to go as far with it as I could. My dad always told me, ‘Just play it ’til you can’t anymore.’”