NEW YORK - National signing day for Christian Hackenberg was more than six months away when the NCAA hammered Penn State in July 2012 with harsh sanctions. The penalties included a four-year bowl ban that would have prevented the Virginia high school phenom to play in the postseason until his senior year.
In the end, Hackenberg ignored overtures from other head coaches, honored his commitment to Bill O'Brien and signed with the Nittany Lions. A lot has happened since then, including a coaching change, but the best development for the team came in September when the NCAA lifted the bowl ban.
So instead of waiting two more years, Hackenberg will make his bowl debut on Saturday when the Lions take on Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
"It really wasn't an issue for me when I was considering schools and when I signed here," Hackenberg said Monday night after the Nittany Lions arrived at their team headquarters in Manhattan. "But obviously it's a great opportunity for not only myself but for everyone on the team.
"The seniors that stayed, it's a great reward for them. That's what I'm most happy about, the opportunity to go out and play again with these guys. It's exciting, it's a great time for the program."
It's also a great opportunity for Hackenberg, who struggled this season because of an ineffective offensive line that prevented Penn State from establishing a solid running game and protecting him. He absorbed 42 sacks and dozens of other hits but didn't miss a snap. His touchdown passes dropped from 20 in 2013 to eight this season, while his interceptions rose from 10 to 15.
Hackenberg's frustration was evident in some games but he still accepted and consistently worked hard in a leadership role that was rare for a 19-year-old sophomore.
"That's just who I try to be naturally every day, a guy that comes in, puts his head down, works hard, is competitive, tries to push his teammates," he said. "Whether a leadership role comes with that or whether it doesn't, I think this year it was magnified more due to a lack of age, I think, on the offensive side of the ball."
Penn State coach James Franklin indicated he has felt that some people blamed Hackenberg for the lack of offense this season. He felt the quarterback has handled adversity well "for the most part."
"I've said since the end of spring ball," he said, "that it was the development of all the guys around Christian that was going to allow him to continue to grow as a player and as a leader. I think he's probably grown light-years this year as a leader just because he's been put in a lot of difficult situations and had to face a lot of adversity."
Now Hackenberg will focus on Boston College. He and his fellow underclassmen want to send the seniors off with a win, and wish themselves to enter the offseason with the momentum a victory would generate.
"Obviously priority No. 1 is sending these seniors out the right way," he said. "But I think also it's one of those things where you can use that to springboard into the next season. I think the Wisconsin win last year helped us tremendously working into the offseason. You don't want to have that [bad] taste in your mouth throughout the offseason.
Four-star tackle signs. Penn State announced that Sterling Jenkins, a 6-foot-8, 305-pound offensive tackle from Baldwin High School near Pittsburgh, has signed a national letter of intent and will enroll at the university in January. Jenkins is rated as a four-star recruit by numerous recruiting websites, and as the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania by Scout.com and ESPN.com.