Perhaps it was the sometimes demonstrative body language of a frustrated 19-year-old quarterback who was in the midst of being sacked a school-record 44 times. Perhaps it was the record-breaking success the same quarterback enjoyed a year earlier, under different coaches and in a different system.
Or perhaps it was because the media and fans tend to connect dots, even when there might not be any logical reason to do so.
Whatever the reason (or combination of reasons), last season there was a perception that Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg was not seeing eye to eye with new offensive coordinator John Donovan and/or new quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Hackenberg acknowledged that he heard the rumblings.
It did bother me a little bit, he said, because, you can't be a prima donna about that.
Hackenberg had previously said that the transition from former coach Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense to James Franklin's more traditional college attack was not easy. However, on Tuesday he said the growing pains never gave him cause to doubt what Donovan and Rahne were teaching him.
The minute I sat down and talked to these guys, I knew what they wanted to do and I knew that they're football coaches, it's their livelihood, it's what they do, Hackenberg said. So for me, I'm gonna buy in and ride the storm out with them the best I can because they're guys who have the same goal as me. They want to win the game. They want to win as many games as they can. They want to put Penn State in a situation to be as successful as they can.
For people to view me as a guy who's not going to buy into that, it kind of hurt my pride, he added. But at the same time, I knew what I was doing and I knew that we had a great relationship, and what we were doing was productive and positive. Though it did bother me, at the same time I really just cared about what they thought and what was going on inside that building and what the whole overall mood of the offense was.
Hackenberg shattered nearly every Penn State freshman passing record in 2013, hitting on 231 of 392 throws for 2,955 yards, 20 TDs and 10 interceptions. But with a rebuilt offensive line and inexperience at receiver in 2014, he connected on a lower percentage of passes (58.9 to 55.8) while tossing 12 TDs and 15 picks. Four of those scores came in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College.
Earlier this spring, Hackenberg said surviving the difficult times actually made him a better player -- and has helped the offense as a whole improve. So, too, has being in the same system for a second year.
That, in turn, has allowed him to become even closer to Donovan and Rahne.
Just continuing to build that relationship, continuing to build that confidence and continuing to learn from them and grow within their scheme, that's been the biggest takeaway for me, Hackenberg said. And that's also been a key part of my development and my relationship with them off the football field -- being able to come in and talk ball and then talk about life for 40 minutes. I think that's been awesome.
To be able to have guys like that on our staff who are super supportive of what we're doing and genuinely care about trying to get the best out of each and every one of us, that's been my biggest relationship takeaway with those guys, he added.
Looking back, he's glad he did not address the rumors head on while they were swirling.
It was more of a kind of blow it off if it's brought up by anyone other than (the coaches), he said. I really enjoyed working with them and I thought last year was awesome for both sides of that.