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Gone from last season’s 11-win team and Fiesta Bowl champions is a ton of talent, leadership and offensive production.

Those three qualities are also in abundance for this year’s Penn State football team, most notably in senior quarterback Trace McSorley. The two-time captain has entrenched himself as the leader of the Nittany Lions, a Heisman Trophy candidate and also a role within (and beyond) the State College community. 

Learn how he’s approaching his senior season, how he’s prepared to lead the offense, his thoughts on the Heisman Trophy and a whole lot more in our exclusive Q&A. 

QDoes this offseason feel differently for you knowing that you’re going into your senior season? 

McSorleyIt honestly doesn’t feel different. The only thing I would say would be a little bit different, is there’s a little more sense of urgency with it being my last year. I think it’s also the fact that we’ve got to bring a lot of new guys up to speed. I think that sense of urgency with wanting to bring those guys up, combined with it being the last year, creates a heightened sense of urgency and a drive and determination to make sure every day you’re really focused on doing extra work on the field and extra work in the film room. 

QCan you compare yourself now, to when you first got to the program? What are the biggest differences for you and how have you changed as a player? 

McSorleyThe biggest evolvement I’ve had is from a leadership standpoint. From when I stepped on campus until now, becoming more vocal, more confident in my ability to call someone out and be the leader of the team. Stepping on as a freshman, you’re not going to be doing that, so I think growing into the position I’m at now, that’s been a big difference. I just feel a lot more confident in my physical ability. Things just kind of happen as a reaction now, as opposed to having to calculate things out. Now, when I’m getting into a drop, I’m so used to seeing defenses and coverages that it’s almost like muscle memory, in the sense that I know my footwork. It’s just taking it and getting it out or making a move, getting out of the pocket. A lot of those things have come a lot more naturally as I’ve grown and become older. 

QBeing a two-time captain, what does it mean when teammates look to you and see you as a leader? 

McSorleyIt has a big impact. Obviously, being a two-year captain at a program like Penn State, with the tradition and the history that we have here, it’s definitely a huge honor. It’s something that doesn’t necessarily happen all the time, so to be in that light is a big responsibility on me. Last year, we had eight captains and a bunch of them were guys going into their last year who had been here for years. It was easy to defer some things to Saquon, or Marcus, or Jason, because they were our natural leaders anyway, so whether they had the captain title or not, people were going to follow them and listen to them. I think this year, Nick and I are coming back as returning captains and then we’ve got Blake, so there aren’t as many captains that we have right now — obviously, we’re probably going to get some more coming into the fall — but right now, having that two-time captain label is just a big honor. It’s a responsibility knowing that however I carry myself, it’s going to be portrayed as the view of the entire team. If I’m not holding myself to the highest standard, then I can’t expect other people to be doing that, because I’m the captain, and I’m a two-time captain.  

QLast year, you were a Heisman Trophy candidate, and that’ll continue this season. Do you have the mindset of you try to block that out because it’s a distraction, or do you use that as motivation?  

McSorleyHonestly, I say a little bit of both. Obviously, it’s a great honor, and it’s something that at the end of the year, I’d love to be in that conversation and love to be in New York, but if you think about it too much, it will become a distraction. So you’ve got to end up blocking it out, and I’ve always kind of thought you look at awards like the Heisman or those types of individual awards, they usually end up being given to the best player in that position on the best team. So, I think that’s where you get the team to be as good as it can be and all that other stuff will fall into place; and if it does, great, but if it doesn’t, your team is winning and your team’s at the top. At the end of the day, that’s what’s more important. Hopefully, we can get the team to be in that top position toward the end of the year, and that kind of stuff can fall into place. 

QLooking at Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne, how big of an impact has he had on your development as a quarterback and on your college experience?  

McSorleyHe’s had a really big impact. The first two years, he was instrumental in me learning about college football and the college football game, what I needed to do to be able to translate what I did in high school to be successful at this level. And then the last couple of years with Coach Moorhead being here, he was our tight ends coach but he was still someone who I could go talk to, and be able to ask questions, whether it be about football or outside of football. He was someone who, he was always there, and I think that’s been instrumental for me from a development aspect outside of football, just kind of growing up and getting older and becoming a man. It’s being able to grow in different areas, other than the football field. Then going back as our coordinator this past year, he’s definitely got a big chip on his shoulder, and I think it’s kind of the perfect mindset for what we need as an offense right now. 

QHow would you describe what it’s like to play in Coach Franklin’s program, and what’s stood out to you the most during your time at Penn State? 

McSorleyGoing through, from the time when I was a freshman until now, I saw with Coach Franklin how he runs his program, he’s very regimented. You know exactly how winter workouts are going to be, you know exactly how spring ball and the summer, and how going into the season will be. I think as you grow older, you realize how much he cares and how much he does for the program, and how much more he wants to do. He’s never settling, there’s always something in the building, whether it’s a staff thing, player development or whatever it is. There’s always something that he’s working to make it be as good as it can be, and he’s been open to some changes in our program. He’s always doing something to give us the best experience we can have and make us be the most comfortable. I think that everyone hears him say how much he cares, and I think a lot of it is just, “OK, this is him talking, this is what he’s saying,” but being in the program for five years, you realize that it’s not just him talking. He actually believes that and he’s actually doing everything he can to give us, the players, our best experience, on top of obviously winning as many games as possible.

QYou’re a visible guy around the university and community. Do you see yourself as a role model, do you want to be a role model, and is that something that’s impacted your experience as a student-athlete?  

McSorleyIt definitely has. I want to be a role model, I want to be someone that young kids can look up to and their parents can be proud, “My son or daughter really likes McSorley, he’s a role model to them.” Being able to be a good role model for kids in my hometown or kids around here, it’s definitely humbling when someone will come up to you and say, “Thank you for everything you do, we love what you do and how you carry yourself.” For me, that’s protecting my family name, and I’ve always been,“Protect your program, protect your faith and protect your family. Never do anything to embarrass them, and always carry my last name and my family in the right light.” It’s something that I’ve always taken great pride in. It’s definitely humbling when you get those opportunities and people come up to you and thank you for the person you are, and not necessarily just the player.