Penn State QB Trace McSorley Aiming To Build On Breakout Year

    Following one of the best seasons ever by a Penn State quarterback, fourth-year junior Trace McSorley is anything but content entering 2017.

    March 31, 2017

    Following one of the best seasons ever by a Penn State quarterback, fourth-year junior Trace McSorley is anything but content entering 2017.


    Athletic expectations, increasingly born out of the wildly inexact science of high school grading systems, can be very tricky things. All too often, history has shown that the five-star blue-chipper disappoints, while the far more anonymous two and three-star kids use the perceived slight as an added source of motivation.

    If pundits’ projections were gospel, last season would have kicked off a painful rebuilding period at quarterback for Penn State. The Chosen One, Christian Hackenberg, was supposed to carry the Nittany Lions out of their darkest hour, leaving behind a gaping void that the relatively untested, unheralded and undersized Trace McSorley couldn’t possibly fill. And yet, none of that came to fruition.

    Hackenberg struggled mightily in Happy Valley. To be fair, his pedestrian three-year career had something to do with a sieve of an O-line and a poor fit in James Franklin’s offensive scheme. However, McSorley, the three-star kid who decommitted from Vanderbilt when Franklin left the university, wound up being in 2016 exactly the kind of difference-making spark plug the Lions had been missing since Michael Robinson graduated in 2005.

    McSorley was nothing short of a revelation in his starting debut. He’s precisely what coaches desire in an offensive leader: a physical and emotional catalyst. He makes plays, he makes those around him better and he has helped make Penn State football fun again. McSorley is tough, athletic and competitive, with a little bit of improvisational swashbuckler in him. He is in many regards a modern-day version of another No. 9, former BYU and Chicago Bears legend Jim McMahon.

    McSorley set school passing records and led Penn State to an improbable Big Ten championship in 2016. In his mind, though, it was just the beginning for a program that has turned the corner under Franklin and second-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

    “The familiarity with Coach’s (Moorhead) new system really helped,” says McSorley, explaining how the Lions overcame a 2-2 start last fall. “Our confidence kept growing, and the momentum we built was huge. From Kent State in the opener to USC in the Rose Bowl, the difference in our execution was like night and day. We were no longer just running plays on offense. We were running plays to score every time we had the ball.”

    Penn State scored plenty in 2016, ringing up at least 38 points in each of the last seven games, including in that heartbreaking finale with the Trojans, which haunts McSorley from time to time to this day. Still, he’s far too focused on his future with the Lions to dwell for too long on what went down in the waning moments in Pasadena.

    “I’m so excited about what’s ahead for this team,” states McSorley, as he looks toward the 2017 campaign. “I’ve felt great in the weight room this offseason. I’m strengthening up and adding muscle, yet also getting leaner at the same time. From a technical standpoint, I’m working on my footwork and mechanics and trying to be less jumpy in the pocket, allowing my receivers more time to get open. I’ll definitely be a lot more confident this year.”

    While McSorley is determined to evolve this offseason for the betterment of a big-play passing game that led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in yards per attempt, who’ll be on the receiving end of his throws? He enjoyed excellent timing and chemistry with top target Chris Godwin, who’s now soaring up NFL Draft boards after leaving at the end of his junior year. Penn State is accustomed to greatness out of running back Saquon Barkley, while Mike Gesicki is one of the nation’s premier returning tight end. However, the loss of Godwin, who led the team in receiving the past two years, leaves a glaring question mark at wide receiver that might not be answered right away.

    “Irvin (Charles) and Juwan (Johnson)—man, it’s such a great opportunity for those guys this season,” offers McSorley regarding a pair of the team’s 6-4 risers who were rookies last year. “One thing that I know for sure is that one player won’t replace Chris (Godwin). Mike (Gesicki) is a special dude. He’s too big for safeties and too athletic for linebackers. And he’s always looking for ways to improve, constantly texting me ideas how we can make the offense execute better. DaeSean (Hamilton), he’s our vocal leader and the veteran of the group.”

    For a brief time earlier this decade, it looked as if Bill O’Brien and Hackenberg would ignite the much-needed revival in Happy Valley. But O’Brien, who did an excellent job stabilizing the program amid NCAA sanctions, lasted just two seasons before returning to the NFL, and Hackenberg never came close to matching the hype. Taking their place were Franklin and McSorley, respectively, a coach-quarterback combo that has overcome a quiet first two seasons to become the guardians of a new direction for Penn State football.

    For McSorley, last year was incredible on so many levels, but in his mind he’s just getting started on this journey. He still has two years of remaining eligibility to engineer wins, compete for crowns and even challenge Kerry Collins and Todd Blackledge as the best quarterbacks to ever wear a Penn State uniform.
    And since the 6-0, 205-pound McSorley doesn’t quite fit the NFL’s prototype at the position, he’s liable to be frustrating Big Ten defenses right through his senior year in 2018.

    “What really gets me fired up about this team is that I’ve seen everyone giving 100% throughout the offseason,” offers McSorley. “Each guy is pushing the next guy to make sure he’s bringing it at all times. Oh, and this might be the fastest team we’ve ever had here. I made it a point to talk with players from Fordham (Moorhead’s last team). They said that if you liked your offense in Year 1, just wait until Year 2.”

    Year 2 as the starter is fast approaching for McSorley, who is eager to once again swing for the fences as the animated and successful leader of a Penn State attack that has no plans for tapping the brakes in 2017.

    MORE: Penn State Spring Practice Storylines

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