REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- His face said it all, calm but serious and with a hint of excitement. That's how Fork Union (Va.) signal-caller Christian Hackenberg carries himself off the field and it was certainly an apt description of how he looked passing during the two hour opening session at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp on Wednesday.
Going through the same drills that Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, among others, went through during their time in Southern California for the event, the class of 2013 recruit didn't have his eyes wide open as college quarterbacks gave him tips and coaches yelled encouragement at him so much as he simply tried to soak up the moment at what is an entirely new football camp experience.
"I'm trying to pick up everything I can; I'm trying to be a sponge this week," Hackenberg said. "It's the little things that will help me improve my game, whether it be with accuracy or little footwork tweaks, anything like that to get the edge over everyone else."
One of the first two commitments for new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien back in February, Hackenberg has been one of the prominent faces connected to the Nittany Lions recruiting efforts and, as one of two MaxPreps Top 100 pledges for the group, one of the most talked about. The program has seen a fresh wave of criticism in the wake of the recently released Freeh Report but as one of the leaders for the class, the four-star quarterback noted that despite the negativity surrounding the school, his future teammates are remaining calm and still excited about the prospect of playing football in front of 100,000-plus fans at Beaver Stadium over the coming years.
"As a class, we're just listening to Coach O'Brien right now and letting whatever pans out up there pan out," Hackenberg said. "He's keeping us on top of everything and keeping us updated.
"For the most part, as long as there's football at Penn State, this class is pretty much going to stay together. That's one of the positives of this whole class, we're a bunch of pretty resilient guys and I'd say we're leaders in that sense."
Hackenberg did not flip through the Freeh Report and has generally tried to stay focused on preparing for the Elite 11 and, next month, fall camp as a senior leader. Amid increased calls for Penn State to receive the rare death penalty from the NCAA in light of the actions (or rather inactions) the school took regarding he Sandusky scandal, the talented quarterback has tried to block most of the negative talk out and dismiss the possibility that the football program could take a year off.
"I think it's ridiculous," he said of the devastating penalty. "I'm just going to let it play out."
So too have his fellow commitments, as none have decommitted despite the increasing likelihood of serious sanctions based on strong talk from leaders at the NCAA. Several members of the group are keeping their options open however, with a source telling CBSSports.com that a number of the Penn State pledges have contacted other programs about everything from visits to whether they still had a committable scholarship offer. Hackenberg was one of several who heard from college coaches in the wake of the Freeh Report being released but, speaking for himself, has generally kept recruiters at bay while remaining committed to wearing the blue and white in college.
"My head coach does a good job of cutting the guys off and keeping them away," he said.
The trip out West for the Elite 11 is Hackenberg's second in as many weeks following a stop in Oregon for Nike's The Opening and is in many ways a respite from the news cycle that allows him to focus on what he loves in the game of football. One of six quarterbacks to participate in both camps, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is able to blend in among his fellow competitors and relate with them the stresses of being an elite recruit with the drive to get better as a signal-caller. Whether it it's dining with Michigan commit Shane Morris or trying to best top-ranked quarterback Max Browne during drills, the group has become tight-knit to the point where each knows what makes the others tick on and off the field.
"We definitely all became pretty tight throughout The Opening and that whole experience," Hackenberg said. "Then coming here, it was just building on that relationship. That's pretty neat."
Players at the Elite 11 eased into the first of five days throwing, with Hackenberg looking sharp despite his accuracy on intermediate and deep routes getting away from him at times. The No. 64 overall recruit in the country, the camp is designed not only to test his arm but his mind thanks to a detailed playbook assembled by Super Bowl winner Trent Dilfer and a host of film and whiteboard sessions eating up a good chunk of time. While the rising senior was looking forward to going throw-for-throw with other quarterbacks, it is the mental workout that he thinks will be the biggest challenge of all.
"It's pretty tough," Hackenberg said. "It's the biggest difference that separates the Elite 11 from any other quarterback camp. It's tough but I think we killed it in the first meeting as a whole.
"I think we're going to keep pushing as a group of 25 and we'll be alright from that standpoint."
Just what Hackenberg hopes the Penn State class of 2013 will be doing over the coming months.