COLLINS: From Curiosity To Legend, McSorley Has Chance To Cement Historic Legacy
Ricky Rahne drove to Virginia to see a player who most college coaches wouldn’t give a second glance.
He wanted to see the confident, successful quarterback in the biggest game he had played to that point, the Virginia Class 5A semifinal. The little-too-short, a-lot-too-skinny kid with the bleached-blonde Mohawk who didn’t have the appearance of an athlete who could compete at the highest level, but always seemed able to come out of the pile with his hand raised.
Rahne was working for Vanderbilt that day, and Vanderbilt needed grit. Vanderbilt needed a winner, and Rahne had a gut feeling. In some capacity, this kid fit the bill.
That day, the kid fumbled three times. His mother, half-jokingly, told Rahne he couldn’t come back and privately worried he never would.
He didn’t listen, and the fears were unfounded, and despite the rough outing — which the kid led a late touchdown drive to win anyway — Rahne never lost faith in what Trace McSorley could be someday.
“I think any time that you recruit a player, you see him being a starter and a championship football player,” Penn State’s offensive coordinator said. “I don’t think he has necessarily exceeded my expectations or anything like that, just because I knew the type of person he was, the type of family he came from. I watched him play a lot of games.”
At this point, so have Penn State fans, and the realization has to be settling in by now. The little-too-short, a-lot-too-skinny kid from Briar Woods High School is knocking on the door to immortality within this program.
Even before he opens his senior season Saturday, a strong case can be made that McSorley is one of the five best quarterbacks to wear the blue and white. If he puts together another season like the last two, there may not be a statistical case that can be made for anyone else in the debate over who is Penn State’s best quarterback ever. With apologies to Todd Blackledge, Chuck Fusina, John Hufnagel and even Kerry Collins, McSorley will have surpassed them all. With relative ease.
In what amounts to two seasons as a starter and a half of action against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl that followed the 2015 season, McSorley has a whopping 7,398 yards passing and 59 touchdowns. He has accounted for 103 touchdowns. In his starts, Penn State is 22-5, and he has won a Big Ten Championship and played in two major bowls. If you want to count his high school career, during which Briar Woods won three state titles and played for a fourth, he’s 77-10.
His accomplishments take up three full pages of small type in the Penn State media guide, but here’s a snapshot of what he’s done in case you think this is all hyperbole.
■ No Penn State quarterback has more career touchdown passes. McSorley is already 11 clear of second place.
■ No Penn State quarterback has a better career passing efficiency rating than McSorley’s 152.9. There is no close second.
■ He ranks second in career passing yards, 1,088 behind Christian Hackenberg. Since West Scranton’s Matt McGloin set Penn State’s single-season passing yardage record with 3,271 (2012), McSorley has surpassed it two times.
■ He’s third all-time in career completions and just 165 away from Hackenberg’s record. McSorley exceeded that total in his final eight games last season, and in Penn State history, nobody has completed their passes at a higher percentage than McSorley’s 61.8.
■ He’s second all-time in career rushing yards for a quarterback behind Michael Robinson.
■ He has averaged nine rushing touchdowns per season over the last two years. If he gets nine this year, the only two Penn State players who will have rushed for more career touchdowns would be Lydell Mitchell and Ki-Jana Carter. If he rushes for more than the 11 he scored last season, he will pass Carter.
■ Most importantly to Penn State, McSorley is eight wins away from breaking the program record for career victories by a starting quarterback.
It’s not bad for a player generously listed as 6-foot, 203 pounds, a player ranked as the No. 40 quarterback in his recruiting class, a player who had only a handful of offers from Power 5 schools, a player who most of those Power 5 schools wanted to land as a safety prospect.
“But that doesn’t mean you bypass a great player because he’s 5-foot-9,” warned James Franklin, the head coach who offered him a scholarship to Vanderbilt and, when he got the Penn State job in January of 2013, couldn’t imagine building a program without McSorley. “Now, you can’t have a roster full of 5-foot-9 quarterbacks, but we want to be able to say, hey, we’re going to take a great player because he’s a great player and if he’s outside of your normal metrics that you use, then that’s fine.
“Trace had the characteristics that I think are most important. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s a winner. Has been that way at every single level. ... The thing is, he doesn’t walk through the door and pass that eyeball test. I think the positive thing is that eyeball test is changing.”
It may already be changed forever at Penn State because of McSorley, and the best may still be yet to come.
DONNIE COLLINS covers Penn State football for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.