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Citrus Bowl Football (copy)

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.

Thought a lot this week about the last two Penn State quarterbacks who became stars, because they tell a story about how fragile being a star really is.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trace McSorley threw passes around Penn State’s Holuba Hall for about a half hour, in front of scouts from a slew of NFL teams at the program’s annual Pro Day, and looked every bit like the quarterback who became the program’s heartbeat during its resurgence the last three seasons.

He completed drag route after drag route.

He dropped a dime to running back Miles Sanders on a post corner.

He showed off legitimate arm strength with a perfectly thrown bomb to East Stroudsburg University receiver Jylil Reeder, working out with the Nittany Lions for the day.

Only four passes weren’t caught. Two were drops of well-thrown passes. Two were passes McSorley lofted high. Two, maybe three, others were off-target tosses on which DeAndre Thompkins made terrific catches. All in all, it looked to a layman like a good half hour’s worth of work for a quarterback who looked smooth, confident, athletic and accurate.

He certainly looked good enough to be drafted by an NFL team next month.

That’s the thing about McSorley, though. Looks have always been a major deterrent for him.

At 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, some believe he’s too small to play quarterback in the NFL, but at that size, he looks like a pretty solid defensive back prospect.

“I haven’t even done a backpedal in five years,” McSorley laughed Tuesday when asked about the prospect of working out as a safety for interested teams at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis earlier this month.

Last year’s top overall pick, quarterback Baker Mayfield, is just 6-foot-1. The expected top pick in the 2019 Draft, quarterback Kyler Murray, is just 5-foot-10. There has never been a better era for undersized quarterbacks. But, McSorley knows he still needs to prove critics wrong.

“I’m a quarterback, and it does kind of put a chip on my shoulder that teams don’t want to see me do that,” McSorley said. “Maybe they don’t believe (in me), and that’s fine. That’s their belief. But in my heart and in my mind, I’m a quarterback, and that’s where I laid my groundwork. That’s what I did in high school, that’s what I did in college and that’s where I put all the hard work in that nobody was around to see me do.”

Wonder if he is glad that’s his reality, knowing the one his predecessor faces.

Christian Hackenberg has never been able to prove anybody right.

He’s 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds. If Michelangelo were around to sculpt a quarterback from a slab of stone, the result would look like Hack.

His arm strength is unquestioned. His potential is limitless. He came to Penn State in 2013 as a five-star recruit, one of the best in the country. He had a good enough true freshman season that some scouts said he’d be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 Draft, if only he were allowed to enter it. He had two up-and-down seasons that followed behind a rag-tag offensive line, and too many were too eager to blame that on his development under head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan’s slumping offense.

Still, the New York Jets took him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Because he looked like a quarterback.

Crazy to think that Hackenberg’s career is probably knocking on the mortuary’s door right now. Hackenberg has spent his late winter trying to revive it all with the Memphis Express of the new Alliance of American Football, and it’s worth noting the Express added former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to its roster this week.

Manziel ultimately will start, for the same reason Hack opened the season under center. Because…potential. But it’s not like he’s even taking Hackenberg’s starting job. Zach Mettenberger took that a few weeks ago, with Hackenberg posting a miserable 43.6 quarterback rating in three starts.

In other words, Hackenberg is now a third-string quarterback in the AAF. There’s probably nowhere to go from there in professional football.

They play the most fragile position in sports, and how you look while doing it means equal parts everything and nothing, depending on who you ask.

But here are two Penn State quarterbacks, one looking to justify those who believed, the other looking to discredit everyone who doesn’t.

Only one has been able to complete that task consistently, and NFL teams might want to take notice next month.

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Donnie Collines is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at dcollins@timesshamrock.com.

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