A few heads turned last week when Christian Hackenberg's named showed up alongside Tyler Ferguson's at quarterback on Penn State's depth chart. The blue-chip recruit from Virginia could play a key role in the Nittany Lions' season. Here's a look at a number of other Penn State players who had meaningful impact during their true freshman -- not redshirt freshman -- seasons, which wasn't always easy to do under Joe Paterno.
Williams helped bring Penn State back on the recruiting trail and on the field.
1. Derrick Williams. It is difficult to say that any other freshman had the impact that Williams, the nation's top-ranked prospect according to most recruiting publications at the time, had on Penn State's much-needed recruiting revival in the mid-2000s, but his contributions during his freshman year in 2005 were a big reason the Nittany Lions won their second Big Ten title. Williams, who had enrolled the previous January, accounted for 668 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns despite missing the final five games with a broken arm. His touchdown catch against Northwestern might have been the most important play of a hugely important season, and his touchdown run against Ohio State two weeks later was nearly as crucial. Williams may not have had the career that many had anticipated but there was no denying that he took a much larger role than most of his freshman predecessors in the Paterno Era.
2. Curtis Enis. The fast, powerful running back from Union City, Ohio, capably filled the massive shoes of Ki-Jana Carter in 1995, leading the team with 683 yards rushing on just 113 carries and adding four touchdowns. Enis, who had spent a year at Kiski Prep before coming to Penn State, would get into some hot water later in his career, but his impressive freshman year was a sign of things to come. He would go on to post back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons and finish his career with an average of 5.8 yards per carry, fourth-best among Penn State's top 10 career rushers.
3. D.J. Dozier. Dozier's most important season was the 1986 campaign, when he had 10 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the Fiesta Bowl, but his best statistical season came in 1983, when he posted 1,002 yards and seven scores on 174 carries. The athletic Dozier, who would later have a cup of coffee with the New York Mets, was one of the first true freshmen to play a substantial role in the spotlight for Paterno.
4. Dan Connor. Connor enrolled in Penn State in January 2004 and wasted little time building what would become the school's greatest career tackles total. Playing alongside fellow future All-American Paul Posluszny, Connor had 85 tackles that season as part of the first of what would be a long line of outstanding Penn State defenses and one of the best runs ever by Linebacker U. An instinctive, tough and durable player, Connor lived up to his lofty recruiting ranking from the jump.
5. Tony Sacca. Before Rob Bolden and Wally Richardson, there was Sacca, who became the first true freshman to start for Paterno at quarterback in 1988, after choosing the Nittany Lions over Notre Dame in what was a major recruiting coup for Penn State. He split time with Tom Bill, throwing for 821 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in 146 attempts.
6. Justin King. As ballyhooed of a recruit as his pal Williams, the cornerback from Pittsburgh didn't have as much of an impact at his primary position; Penn State had a veteran secondary that year. Still, the speedy King saw plenty of important action as a nickel back and also moonlighted on offense, totaling 353 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in 2005.
7. Eric McCoo. The elusive running back from Red Bank, N.J., led the Nittany Lions in rushing for three seasons, but his best came in 1998, when, at barely 18 years old, he averaged 6.5 yards per carry on his way to an 800-yard season.
8. Kevin Kelly. Kickers rarely have glamorous impact on a team, but their contributions can be some of the most meaningful. So it went for Kelly in 2005, when he connected on 16 of 23 field goals, 49 of 50 extra point tries and the overtime game-winner in the Orange Bowl. He even ran in a two-point conversion against Michigan.
9. Jesse James. Five other true freshmen saw action for Penn State during Bill O'Brien's first season but none had the impact of the 6-foot-7 James, who caught 15 passes for 276 yards and five touchdowns.
10. Rob Bolden. Bolden's first year of a tumultuous career with Penn State was arguably his best. Splitting time with Matt McGloin and starting eight of the 10 games he played in, he threw for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Honorable mention: Wally Richardson, Andrew Quarless, Stefen Wisniewski, Adrian Amos, Joe Iorio, A.J. Wallace, Calvin Lowry
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