INDIANAPOLIS — One by one, the key offensive playmakers in Penn State’s dominant two-year run tepidly touted their individual skills at the NFL combine while constantly referring to the team’s success.
Saquon Barkley. Mike Gesicki. DaeSean Hamilton. All were instrumental in guiding Penn State to 22 wins the last two seasons, a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl berth and a Fiesta Bowl victory. But one other player belongs in that esteemed group, and he’s still on campus.
That’s quarterback Trace McSorley (6-foot, 198 pounds), the program’s unquestioned leader going into 2018. If you were to ask Hamilton — McSorley’s key playmaker at wide receiver — the quarterback’s stature won’t rise this season. He always was the big man on campus.
“I think Trace has been the face of Penn State,” Hamilton said. “He’s more of the face of Penn State than I am. Obviously, he’s the starting quarterback, and he’s been able to lead us to so many wins. He’s a big, crucial part to Penn State. He’s been a big, crucial part to Penn State’s success as well over the past years. He’s been doing a great job, and I know he’ll continue to keep that up as well.”
McSorley, a senior, has shredded the Nittany Lions’ record book in the team’s quick-strike offense. He has thrown touchdown passes in 28 consecutive games, doubling up former leader Kerry Collins’ record of 14. McSorley already owns the career mark for touchdown passes (59) and is the only player in school history with multiple 3,000-yard passing seasons. His 7,369 passing yards rank second behind Christian Hackenberg’s 8,457 yards.
But McSorley’s impact at Penn State stretches well beyond statistics. He guided the Nittany Lions to the 2016 Big Ten championship with victories against Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin along the way. In a 51-48 loss to USC, McSorley tied a Rose Bowl record with 5 touchdowns, including 4 through the air.
Last year, the Nittany Lions lost two games by a total of four points to ruin their dreams of an unbeaten season. Still, there were plenty of exciting moments. McSorley threw a touchdown pass on the game’s final play to beat Iowa 21-19. At season’s end, Penn State stopped Washington 35-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. McSorley threw for 342 yards and 2 scores that day.
“An unbelievable quarterback,” said Gesicki, Penn State’s tight end. “Unbelievable competitor. He’s a leader for Penn State football. I’m excited about his future. It’s interesting now that I’m out of Penn State, he’s in Penn State and I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Am I allowed to talk an NCAA athlete? I don’t really care.’
“Trace is a good friend of mine. He actually just reached out to me earlier [Friday] and said, ‘Best of luck, do what you do.’ So I’ll get excited to get back there because he’ll be throwing to me for a little bit when I get back on campus.”
Penn State will miss players like Barkley, who is considered the draft’s top prospect, as well as Gesicki and Hamilton. But with McSorley, the future is as bright as the team’s recent past.