Drue Hackenberg comes from a family with a tremendous athletic pedigree that started most famously with former Penn State star QB Christian Hackenberg who would be drafted by the New York Jets. Christian wasn't the only Hackenberg to have great collegiate success as Brandon was a star soccer player for Penn State who was drafted in the first round by Orlando City, and Alex was a standout catcher at Clemson who was drafted in the 18th round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
Now, the youngest of the four brothers is shining in Blacksburg with Drue Hackenberg set to lead the charge and throw the first pitch for the Hokies in their second ever home regional. This comes after Hackenberg became Virginia Tech's first 10-game winner since 2013, the last time that Tech hosted a regional, finishing the season with a 10-2 record in 14 starts (15 total appearances) plus a 2.83 ERA, 80 strikeouts, a .252 opposing batting average, and only 15 walks in 86 innings of work.
So how has Drue Hackenberg become the latest star from his family? The brotherly competition growing up certainly has played a role in developing him into a star pitcher and giving him maturity beyond his years as a freshman when John Szefc was asked about it earlier this season.
"I think so. Growing up around a big time quarterback like Christian (Hackenberg) and then his other older brother who I watched catch at Clemson, now with the White Sox. And then he has another brother who plays professional soccer. I've never even seen him, but I've seen the baseball player and the football player. But he was probably the young kid getting his ass knocked around growing up probably, that's just my guess. That probably made him really prepared for being a high level college/professional athlete," Szefc said.
Star outfielder Gavin Cross also credits that maturity partially to Drue Hackenberg's upbringing in a family loaded with future collegiate stars and professional athletes along with his upbringing producing a deep competitiveness in him.
"I think a lot of that has to due with kind of how he grew up. A bunch of his brothers are really highly talented athletes and played professionally. I think that competitive edge, kind of how he was raised. I think a lot of that has to do with it. And then overall, he's just a competitor. He just wants to win. Like we try to be as a team, no moment is too big for him. He threw in Fenway (Park), he threw really well. He's just going to give you his best start, you know what you're getting out of him, and he's been our guy this year. We're going to keep riding him and feel confident when he's on the mound for us," Cross said.
Drue Hackenberg also recognizes that being around three other talented brothers who would become professional athletes certainly helped him a lot.
"My brothers, definitely, growing up, being able to be around them my whole life and understanding what they've done, what they did. Just being around them was really huge. They taught me things that you got to take out there, you got to always take throughout your college career," Hackenberg said.
Hackenberg shared more about what it was like for him growing up in an environment around three other very talented brothers.
"It's probably like any other one, not to say that there's a lot of families that have four brothers (who have become Power 5 college athletes)," Hackenberg said. "We're always competitive with each other and we always try to beat each other when we were playing football out in the backyard or playing video games in the house. No matter what it was, we were always trying to out compete each other. But at the same time, we always loved each other to. We always had each other's backs. We always wanted to help each other as we progress. So obviously as we got older, all my brothers gave me advice, they've helped me be able to do what I do now. That household was definitely huge and having the brothers that I have is a blessing for sure."
That brotherhood also enhanced his competitive nature as well.
"Not to be cocky or anything, none of my brothers were terrible athletes or terrible players as you said. They were highly competitive athletes, they were very successful in their own way. I know if I can go out there and compete with them; play with them, they're going to only raise my bar as well. And as I raise the bar, you'd be able to come out here and handle anybody I need to handle as much as I can. My brothers definitely played a huge part in being able to raise my competitiveness up and give me that competitive edge," Hackenberg said.
Standout catcher Cade Hunter has also gotten to see that competitiveness and maturity in Hackenberg and regular Friday starter Griffin Green throughout the season from his perspective behind the plate.
"They are two of the best competitors I think I've ever played with. They just know that they can throw it right by people and they've also learned that if they can put it in play, we got a great defense behind them. On top of that, they know that the offense is going to score runs. They don't try to do too much. If they score a couple of runs early, it doesn't even phase them. They know we'll score and they'll just shut them down for the second half of the game. But the biggest thing is how they attack hitters and the way they compete. It's just awesome to be a part of it," Hunter said.
That maturity and competitiveness has been evident throughout the season including against Louisville earlier this season with John Szefc seeing Hackenberg get out of jams and show that mental fortitude that he saw previously at Maryland in 2014 with future Boston Red Sox pitcher Mike Shawaryn.
"It's a real intangible thing. I saw in 2014 when I was at Maryland. We had Mike Shawaryn at the time. He pitched in the big leagues last year. Mike was very good just like Drue is. The mental part of it, he was able to hang in there in situations you're talking about. The moment was never too big for him just like this kid. He never shies away from the moment. I think that's what makes him good outside of his physical ability," Szefc said.
Additionally, Hackenberg has had the benefit of learning from one of the best closers in the history of baseball, Billy Wagner. Being coached up by Wagner has certainly played a crucial role as he shared earlier this season.
"Billy Wagner obviously because he definitely helped me maturity wise and mindset wise to be able to come out here and be like 'you can do anything you need to, you can get out of any situation', you got to be calm and collected at all times.
Wagner is undoubtedly a great person to have as a resource to mentor and coach you up for Drue Hackenberg with the freshman standout expanding on his relationship with the former MLB great (and should be future Hall of Famer at least in my book).
"Obviously, he's my coach. But more than that, he's one of my best friends too. I love Billy, he's always a tough guy on me which he had to be, which is what I love. I'll go back and I'll go talk to him. And whenever I go home, I'll go and see him and whatnot or try to, and just talk, get to hang out with him. I wouldn't say a second dad, he's a very second close to that, he's basically that," Hackenberg said.
Having Wagner as a coach has clearly boosted what Hackenberg do on the mound not just because of his maturity and competitiveness, but also from his pitching arsenal and his ability to provide lots of movement with all his pitches, and get weak contact.
"Well what he does is that he can really sink it. So his two-seamer is like this, he throws nothing straight. His fastball will do this and then his slider will do this. He doesn't usually strike a lot of guys out. It's usually weak contact he lives off of so you have to play really good infield defense behind him which we've done, we got some pretty good defenders behind him too, but if you're not picking balls up and playing good defense, then you're in trouble, because he's not going to strike people out for a living, not right now, maybe in the future. It's not straight four-seamer coming at you," Szefc said.
From being in a very talented household loaded with future collegiate stars and professional athletes to being coached by one of the best closers of all-time in Billy Wagner, Drue Hackenberg has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the country.
Of course, Hackenberg will be facing a stage unlike any he has faced when he takes the mound on Friday to open #4 Virginia Tech's 2022 postseason run. But Hackenberg has shown so far that he will be more than ready to compete in the biggest moments and rise to the occasion for the Hokies.