Welcome to another edition of BSDebate. Today, I'm going to be debating myself since I started writing this at midnight because I was bored. I brought this topic up in the comment section on Wednesday, but wanted to go more in-depth on it today. The question: Looking at things at this moment, who is the more important recruit in the history of Penn State football: the #1 prospect of the 2005 class, Derrick Williams or the top-rated quarterback of the 2013 class, Christian Hackenberg?
The Case For Derrick Williams:
Derrick Williams wasn't supposed to come to Penn State.
Well before signing day, Williams had committed to play at the University of Florida. But then Ron Zook was fired as the Gators' head coach and Williams decided to re-open his commitment.
It was crazy for Derrick Williams to come to Penn State.
In the previous five years before Williams's arrival on campus, Joe Paterno led his teams to a 26-33 record. 2004 had been the team's fourth losing season in the past five and many were calling for Paterno to step down as coach, saying he was too old for the job.
Williams was listed as the #1 recruit in the nation by Rivals and #3 by Scout, just behind Mark Sanchez. He held offers from Texas, Oklahoma and about 50 other schools. But Paterno told the Washington D.C.-area native that he had a chance to help the Nittany Lions rise from the ashes. He had the opportunity to turn an entire program around. He was poised to become one of the legends of Penn State football.
So, on ESPN on that first Wednesday of February, Williams chose to come to Happy Valley. And with his commitment, he brought a new sense of hope. He and fellow five-star recruit Justin King led Penn State to a 11-1 season their freshmen year, capped off by an Orange Bowl victory. During his four years on campus, the Nittany Lions won 40 football games and the Dark Years were a distant memory.
The Case For Christian Hackenberg:
It began only a half hour after Mark Emmert and Ed Ray stood at that podium in Indianapolis, declaring that the Penn State roster and recruiting classes had become free agents. Ross Douglas, a four-star rated cornerback out of Ohio decommitted from the Nittany Lion program and sportswriters galore saw it as the floodgates of State College opening. Many predicted that Bill O'Brien would lose his entire first class of recruits picked by him and his staff.
Adam Breneman proved them wrong. Garrett Sickels proved them wrong. But one name above all else proved them wrong.
Hack committed to O'Brien in February, wanting to play for a coach that would mold him into a NFL quarterback. It was that reason, plus the loyalty that O'Brien showed Christian during the most trying times of his young coaching career, that cemented the five-star recruit's commitment to Penn State even after the sanctions were levied by the NCAA. I think many, including myself, think that if Hackenberg would have left, the mass exodus that talking heads thought would occur, would have actually happened, no matter the tireless work that recruits who might have stayed (like Breneman) and the coaches would have put in.
And now, Hackenberg has the opportunity to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in Penn State history. Yes, I know that he hasn't even stepped foot onto campus yet, but after the job that O'Brien and quarterback coach Charlie Fisher did with Matt McGloin, who can argue to the contrary? The two coaches have a five-star talent to mold into whatever they want.
Think of Jay Paterno handing five-star recruit Anthony Morelli and then the opposite of all of that happening now.
It's obvious to see that the basis of this debate is not on stars and potential on-the-field impact alone. There's symbolism behind these two recruits, arguably attached to them much more than any other in Penn State's history. Williams provided hope that Penn State could once again become a national power while Hackenberg became the keystone of the 2013 class and may be the keystone of the program for four (or five) years to come.
In this case, at this moment, I give the edge to Hackenberg. While Williams provided the spark to a team that most undoubtedly had the talent to be great (i.e. Michael Robinson, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Allen Zemaitis, etc.), Hackenberg is the piece that is preserving a team for years down the road. As I said before, if Christian decided to seek out other options, this recruiting class would have disintegrated. The future of the program rides on his shoulders, along with best buddies Breneman and BOB.
What do you think? Make your argument in the comments below.