Micky Sullivan says Christian Hackenberg was "a tall, skinny tenth grader" when he first arrived at Fork Union Military Academy four years ago.
"He just grew and grew, and got better and got better," says Sullivan, who stepped down as the prep football coach at FUMA following last season, but remains the school's athletic director.
"And it was fun to watch."
Now Sullivan gets to enjoy watching Hackenberg play quarterback at Penn State, where he's the Nittany Lions' starter this fall as a true freshman.
"It's kind of like watching your own kid go play. It's kind of cool," Sullivan said Wednesday outside the Estes Athletic Center.
Hackenberg was an all-state selection after throwing for 2,144 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior last fall, and he helped Sullivan's final FUMA team reach the VISAA Division 1 state title game.
Hackenberg -- regarded by 247Sports.com as a five-star recruit, and ranked the best quarterback in the country by ESPN.com -- initially committed to Penn State in February 2012, and signed with the Nittany Lions a year later. His commitment never wavered, despite the NCAA sanctions brought down against the Penn State program in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal two summers ago.
"A lot of people doubted his ability, doubted his commitment, his choice. And I think Christian's proved them all wrong," Sullivan said. "He's had a great two weeks. He's an 18-year-old freshman, and he's going to make mistakes. But he's done pretty well."
Hackenberg made his college debut two weeks ago -- becoming the second true freshman to open the season at quarterback for Penn State since 1910 -- with a two-touchdown performance in a 23-17 win over Syracuse. Last Saturday, Hackenberg threw for 311 yards and a score in the Nittany Lions' 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan.
Through his first two college games, Hackenberg has completed 45 of 64 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns, with three interceptions. And Sullivan says he's not surprised by his former quarterback's instant impact.
"I always thought that given the opportunity -- unless there was somebody really, really good -- that he was going to be the guy that was going to play at Penn State really quick," Sullivan said. "Just because he's so competitive, and he's smart, and he's unbelievably athletic."
Sullivan watched Penn State's first two games on television, but he says he's headed to Happy Valley for this weekend's Central Florida game. He also said he still talks to Hackenberg at least once a week.
"I think he's doing really well. He seems to be responding exceptionally well to all of it," Sullivan said. "I mean, one of the things people don't realize is Christian had a microphone stuck in his face for about a year and a half, before he got to Penn State, and was questioned. And he's just a great kid."
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