Tri-State Player of the Year Trace McSorley
By Joseph Santoliquito
It won’t go away, at least not completely, and that’s a good thing. Trace McSorley’s internal competitive flame is a force from which he can’t easily be separated. He admits he’s getting better when it comes to selective amnesia. Through time, the Penn State redshirt sophomore quarterback has been able to gradually let go of the last pass he threw in the Rose Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound second-team all-Big Ten Conference selection is also coming to grips with the fact that not everything should be based on what a player did last—especially when it comes to him. He’s been able to reconcile within himself, and step back just a little.
The picture then begins to get brighter, when you consider McSorley did this:
Lead Penn State to its first Big Ten championship in seven years.
Break Big Ten records for most passing yards (384) and most touchdown passes (4) in a conference championship game.
Break Penn State single-season records for passing yards (3,614), total yards (3,979), touchdown passes (29), 300-yard passing games (5) and most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (16).
McSorley can add another accolade to his long list of 2016 accomplishments by being named the Maxwell Football Club’s Tri-State Player of the Year, joining his coach, James Franklin, who was named Tri-State Coach of the Year.
You just have to excuse the athletic scrambler from Ashburn, Virginia, when it comes to the last time anyone saw him on a football field. McSorley is the type that will make 60 plays during a game, and dwell on the one snafu he made. Dissect a winner and that’s the essence that you’ll find inside. The last pass he threw against USC still lingers, though not as much as the day after the Rose Bowl, and the day after that. The pain is going away.
It’s that hyper-competitive drive that makes McSorley so fun to watch, and why he was so successful in directing the Nittany Lions to their first Rose Bowl since 2008.
It took a few weeks after the Rose Bowl loss to USC to realize what a special year he had.
“That last pass in particular still does bother me and I do think about it a lot, but looking back at my overall body of work, I’m proud of what happened to me this year and with our team,” McSorley said. “It wasn’t always smooth, it wasn’t always perfect, but when I look back on 2016, everything happened for a reason, and I’m thankful for how it happened.
“All of the ups and downs that we had taught us something. We needed to go through that game against Pitt (down 28-7 in the second quarter) to know we weren’t going to lose in the Big Ten championship (when Penn State was down against Wisconsin, 28-7, in the second quarter). Those are the games that I look back on. It’s awesome to see how the team grew and how I grew as a player.”
Before the season, McSorley had a feeling something was brewing. He had done enough to earn the starting quarterback’s job for Penn State in 2016. He just needed to hear it from Franklin. So when Franklin called McSorley into his office one Wednesday morning in late-August, he knew what it was about.
For Franklin, however, the choice initially wasn’t easy. McSorley won out over Tommy Stevens on all of the things stats don’t bare out, though a highly perceptive coach can see.
“It was a real battle during camp between Trace and Tommy Stevens,” Franklin said. “Trace was older and had been there and done that, and that’s what was probably the difference, what Trace displayed day in and day out.”
There was also one huge intangible.
“Trace is just a winner,” Franklin said. “Not that Tommy isn’t. Trace was a winner in high school. He’s a winner in college, and it’s one of the big reasons why we recruited him. He makes everybody around him better. Every single person in our program respects him, and when you have that type of respect, and you go out and work so hard, and prepare so hard, and you’re that type of teammate, you have the ability to raise the level of the whole organization.
“I think that really helps is that me and Trace have known each other for a long time. We were one of the schools that recruited him early on in the process. I’m really close with his mom and dad, and his sister, who now goes here to Penn State. We’re aligned philosophically, we’re aligned culturally, and that really helps. I believe in him, and I think he believes in me.
“He’s a winner in every essence of the word. Trace is unbelievably tough. The one thing he doesn’t have is that he doesn’t pass the eyeball test. He isn’t going to walk into the room and be 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, but every other ingredient, physical characteristic, all of the other attributes that you really can’t measure, leadership, toughness, charisma, and unselfishness, all of those other traits are what you’re looking for in a quarterback to lead your team. He’s been awesome. He’s been invaluable to us.”
In 2016, McSorley said his greatest maturation came during a three-game stretch between Pitt on Sept. 10 and Maryland on Oct. 8. He began finding a comfort zone. Against Pitt, Penn State was down 28-7 with 11:54 left in the first half. With 5:00 left, McSorley had the Nittany Lions within 42-39, before losing by that score. Against Minnesota, McSorley engineered a two-minute drive that tied the score and Penn State won it in overtime, 26-23. Against Maryland, Penn State never trailed and McSorley found his niche.
“Those three games, in my mind, stick out, because it told me personally I can compete at this level and run our offense,” McSorley said. “We all start playing football at an early age to have fun. I think this year was one of those years where I let that show more than I ever have. I loved playing the game and being there with my teammates. The bond we had was special and being part of a group that cares about each other. It wasn’t just me, it was our whole team that was enjoying everything that happened to us last year. It was great to see it all come together.
“The USC game still lingers a bit with me. But my selective amnesia is getting better.”
Winner: Brian Westbrook Tri-State Player Award – 2016 Penn State University