Traditionally, football players from State College High who cross College Avenue to play for Penn State have been very successful, whether they’ve been highly recruited or stayed mainly under the radar.
The latest Little Lion to make that trek will be 5-11, 215 pound running back Jack Haffner, who joined the class of 2012 as a preferred walk-on.
Haffner is an interesting prospect for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his absolute monster senior season at State High. In 2011 he rushed for 2143 yards (a single-season total second only to Larry Johnson), scored 28 touchdowns, had five 200+ yard games, and was named to the first-team, Pennsylvania AAAA All-State Team.
Statistics can be deceiving, of course, but Haffner faced only top-level, AAAA competition. At least nine of SC’s opponents went on to the playoffs last season, and the Little Lions played eventual state champion Central Dauphin twice. Haffner didn’t see many 190-pound defensive linemen.
So how did he end up at Penn State as a walk-on? Surely, he must have been recruited–and he was. But a lot of big schools had him on the proverbial “you’re our next guy, right after so-and-so” list, and the more serious teams from the Patriot League were good but failed to fire up his enthusiasm.
Then Penn State called.
“Last season, my speed definitely improved,” Haffner said, “and I got a lot stronger as well. And I got the ball a lot more and so I was a lot more productive. Offensively and defensively I think I did pretty well.
“I was recruited by a lot of Patriot League schools, William and Mary, Army. I went on a visit to Holy Cross. Pretty much the recruiting thing came down to Holy Cross, which I liked, or walking on at Penn State.
“Penn State called me and asked me to come to a game, and I came to the Nebraska game. Things died down a little after that for a while, and then I got a call from coach Vanderlinden and he kind of persuaded me. He told me that they would like me to walk on there. And what he said really swayed my decision to come to Penn State.”
It also helped that he was impressed with the new Penn State coaching staff. “They all seem really great,” he said. “I mean they definitely have a lot of experience and they know what they are doing. They all have been very successful.”
Haffner is going to be enrolling for the summer term, but he is unsure about a schedule for team workouts and activities. “I am going to a walk-on day on April 2nd. I know that I am going to have to improve my strength and work really hard, but I would do that anyway. I mean nothing really changes. I think my toughness and determination will help me up there.”
No one has seen or knows more about Haffner as a football player than State High coach Al Wolski. “We had to go to more of a running game this season,” Wolski said, “and Jack really stepped up and did an excellent job. He combines speed with toughness, balance and determination.
“One game against Father Judge, his helmet came off at about the five-yard line, and with people all around him he took it into the endzone without a helmet. He’s that kind of kid. He’s a great running back, and he can catch the football, too. He never drops a pass. He’s the complete package.
“But as a walk-on–and I told him this–all the stars have to align right. But if anybody can do it, it’s him. He has a lot of determination and focus and all those intangibles that people look for in a player.”
As for Haffner, all of this can’t start soon enough. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve been ready all year.”
He sounds like the kind of player who’s not going to wait around for the stars to align themselves.