STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A lot of colleges wanted Trace McSorley, but most of them saw him as a safety. He is now the starting quarterback at Penn State.
Coach James Franklin announced the news Wednesday, naming McSorley the starter for Penn State’s season-opening game Sept. 3 against Kent State. McSorley, a redshirt sophomore, beat out redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens and freshman Jake Zembiec.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities to watch [McSorley] and see how he prepares,” Franklin said. “Talking to the strength staff and the players about the summer when the coaches weren’t around and how he conducted himself. It’s everything. Because the [practice] statistics were so close, it was really a gut decision.”
McSorley, a dual-threat quarterback who won three state titles at Briar Woods in Northern Virginia, originally committed to play quarterback at Vanderbilt for Franklin. When Franklin chose to take the Penn State job, McSorley eventually followed him, de-committing from the Commodores and signing with the Nittany Lions.
He redshirted in 2014 and then backed up Christian Hackenberg last season. McSorley completed 20 of 40 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 13 times for 43 yards.
His most significant action came in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia. He completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two scores after Hackenberg was injured and rallied the Nittany Lions from a three-touchdown deficit in the 24-17 loss.
McSorley had a strong spring game, completing 23 of 27 passes with four touchdowns. He seemed like the clear leader for the job, but Franklin continued to call it a spirited competition during the early portion of fall camp.
“Over the whole offseason, Tommy and I really pushed each other,” McSorley said. “He had a great camp, a great offseason. We made each other better because of it.”
McSorley went 55-5 as a four-year starter for Briar Woods, and he nearly became the first Virginia quarterback to win four state titles but his team lost in the championship game his senior season.
Listed at 6-feet and 201 pounds, McSorley has dealt with people telling him he was too short to play quarterback at the highest level in college for years. He was the No. 15 dual-threat quarterback in the country in the Class of 2014.
Stevens redshirted last season. He was the No. 21 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the Class of 2015. Stevens, who played at Decatur Central in Indianapolis, originally committed to Indiana before flipping to Penn State.
“I know a lot of people thought that decision was made after spring ball, but it wasn’t,” Franklin said. “Tommy had a really, really good camp. Really improved. It played out the way we thought it would, giving him a chance to compete for the job.”
Zembiec, from Aquinas Institute in Rochester, was rated the No. 19 pro-style quarterback and No. 1 player in the state of New York in the Class of 2016 by the 247Sports composite rankings.
Hackenberg had one more year of eligibility but left for the NFL after starting for three seasons. Michael O’Connor was also in McSorley’s recruiting class. The 4-star prospect from IMG Academy left the program after one year, and he ended up playing in Canada last season at the University of British Columbia.
“It’s an honor to be named the starting quarterback at Penn State,” McSorley said. “It’s something since the day I committed here that I’ve always dreamed about. I mean, all of the great starting quarterbacks that have come out of Penn State, it’s an honor to be in that group.”