STATE COLLEGE — Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has never shied away from the fact that he got to Happy Valley without much attention.
The same can’t be said for how his departure will be viewed.
As a three-star recruit, McSorley didn’t receive many offers to play quarterback at the Division I level, as many viewed him as too small for that level.
McSorley debunked that notion, and then some. He broke numerous Penn State records and dazzled fans with many memorable moments.
Heading into the Citrus Bowl, McSorley already holds Penn State’s career records for wins (31), completions (703), passing yards (9,653), passing touchdowns (75), total offense (11,275 yards), rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (29), touchdowns responsible for (104), 300-yard passing games (10) and 200-yard passing games (27).
But above all else, he wants to be remembered by one thing – winning.
“I want to leave a legacy as a winner,” McSorley said at the team’s Citrus Bowl media day. “The expectations weren’t necessarily super high, but I exceeded those expectations. I had goals for myself and I went on to achieve them.”
McSorley laid the foundations for his storybook run with the blue and white by putting in the work and setting the tone for the rest of the players in the program.
“It was just by coming in every day, being humble, working hard and elevating the love of my teammates and being someone who was good to have in the locker when a guy saw him walk through there,” McSorley said. “Someone who was approachable or just someone who is always around, always trying to help his teammates.”
‘More … than football’
James Franklin remembers his first home visit with McSorley when the coach was recruiting the Ashburn, Virginia, native to Vanderbilt.
He knew right away the kind of quarterback he was getting. More importantly, he knew the kind of person he was getting.
“I remember sitting in his house having breakfast with his family – the relationship that we had with them, his mom, his dad, his sister, Trace,” Franklin said. “Just watching him grow and watching him evolve, watching him have success on the football field, watching him have success academically.
“It’s so much more for us than football. Those relationships are really important to me. Being able to go to the National Football Foundation banquet last week as a whole family. Mom and dad were there. Trace was there. Talking to them a couple weeks ago about what that experience is going to be like, what a big deal that is. For Kerry (Collins) to be inducted the same weekend that Trace is being honored, it’s just special.”
Franklin said he believes McSorley and former teammate Saquon Barkley are examples of what’s good about college football.
The duo of McSorley and Barkley set a precedent for how Penn State players should conduct themselves – on and off the field, Franklin said.
Chasing 10 wins
It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that without them, the Nittany Lions wouldn’t be in as good a shape as they are right now, with a third straight 10-win season in reach if they can topple Kentucky on New Year’s Day.
“They’re two guys that really showed up on campus and never really questioned what we asked them to do, Franklin said. “They understand every time we ask them to do something, it’s based on two things: what is in the program’s best interest and their best interest, or we wouldn’t be asking you to do it. Those are guys that have done it.”
The opportunity for a third 10-win season in a row hasn’t been lost on McSorley.
It would both further solidify his three-year run as a starter as an overwhelming success and set up the program for more good days in the future.
“That’d be huge. Obviously, for our team, that’s our goal,” McSorley said. “It’s hard to win 10 games two years in a row, but it’s harder to do it three years.
“I mean, if you look at teams that can do that, it’s Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson – those programs that are always at the top. So, if we can do that, I think that it puts us in a really good spot for the future and it’s something that is a testament to all the hard work that we put in this year.”
Emotions will be high against the Wildcats as McSorley takes the field for Penn State one last time.
But the fifth-year veteran has managed to keep his focus squarely on winning.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to focus on the game and focus on Kentucky,” he said, “and being able to go down to Orlando and finish the year off right.”
Vincent Lungaro covers Penn State football for CNHI Pennsylvania media properties. Follow him on Twitter @VinceLungaro.