STATE COLLEGE, Pa. | Christian Veilleux's football career has been defined by sacrifice. The Penn State quarterback left Canada at 16 to play football in the U.S., lost his senior season of high school football to COVID and returned to the field after two years only to play with lingering flu symptoms that left him voiceless the next day.
Also, he was part of college football's historic first freshman class that could sign endorsement deals via NIL but, as a Canadian on an F-1 student visa, largely is ineligible. So what continues to drive him?
"My journey," Veilleux said. "Being where I’m from, all the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here, I think that’s what drives me."
Veilleux, a redshirt freshman from Ottawa, brings one of the more intriguing stories to Penn State's 2022 season. He is the quarterback wedged between Sean Clifford, the sixth-year senior and fourth-year starter, and two highly regarded true freshmen in Drew Allar and Beau Pribula. He is the Penn State quarterback fighting for eyes between the veteran and the future.
But Veilleux understands the value of sacrifice. He began at Ottawa's Gridiron Academy, an elite football training program where Canadians embark on their journeys, as Veilleux said, "down south." Penn State's Jonathan Sutherland and Jesse Luketa trained at Gridiron Academy as well.
At 16, Veilleux left Canada for Canisius High in Buffalo. He threw for 1,693 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore before transferring once again to The Bullis School in Maryland.
After throwing for 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, Veilleux was poised for a major senior breakthrough, but The Bullis School canceled its 2020 season due to COVID. However, Veilleux already had major college offers and chose Penn State.
As a freshman, Veilleux gradually climbed Penn State's depth chart, becoming the No. 2 quarterback by mid-November. Still, he could not have imagined how he ultimately would return to the field.
The Thursday before Penn State played Rutgers last November was great. The quarterbacks had dinner together, and everyone felt fine. By Friday, much of the team was suffering from flu-like symptoms and hooked to IV units, the quarterbacks included.
"It was bad, man," Veilleux said. "I didn't know what was going to happen Saturday."
Veilleux was among those cleared Saturday morning to play, so he began preparing himself mentally to start. Though Clifford made an effort, the starter clearly wasn't healthy, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich tapped Veilleux in the first quarter and said, "You're up."
Veilleux still didn't feel great (he was coughing in the huddle), hadn't thrown a pass in a live game in more than two years and was making his Beaver Stadium debut. That made his performance in the Lions' 28-0 win over Rutgers all the more exceptional.
Veilleux finished 15 for 24 for 235 yards and three touchdowns, going 6 for 9 in the third quarter. Veilleux also rushed for 36 yards on 10 carries and became Penn State's first true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown pass since Christian Hackenberg in 2013.
"With [Veilleux], it's different," former Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson said after the game. "You look at him, you don't see any fear or any sight of backing down. He's been ready for the moment ever since he came in here. He's been practicing like it, playing like it, and he finally got to show you guys today the talent he has."
Veilleux didn't have much voice left Sunday and to this day remains proud of how he played through the illness. Adrenaline and training carried him.
"I had to make it work," he said. "I was the only guy who could go in that day, because everybody else was sick. I wouldn’t say it really affected my confidence, because I wasn’t really thinking about it on the field or during the game until afterward. ... I just forgot I was sick."
Veilleux played in two games last season, replacing Clifford in the Outback Bowl when the starter left with an undisclosed injury. That was stressful as well, considering Penn State began Veilleux's fourth-quarter drive at its own 9-yard line trailing by 14.
Yet every bit of experience helps. Further, Franklin said this past spring that Veilleux built on his success vs. Rutgers, while Clifford said the quarterback continues to push him.
"You never really know what you have with your backup quarterback until they get in and get legitimate game time," Franklin said. "That's valuable, and he's built on it daily and weekly."
Ultimately, Veilleux would like to build some NIL opportunities, but that might take federal action. Veilleux plays in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, which limits how its holders can earn money.
Essentially, international students attending U.S. schools on such visas cannot earn money through off-campus activities. There are rare exceptions, such as internships, but U.S. NIL opportunities are excluded. In fact, an immigration lawyer told the Associated Press that international students who sign NIL deals risk having their visas terminated.
That presents a unique situation for Veilleux, considering Clifford started his own NIL agency, and Veilleux's girlfriend, who runs track at Penn State, signed with it.
"I need somebody who can read the thing and figure out what's going on," he said.
Another sacrifice for the future. But Veilleux has a destination.
"At the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing," he said. "My parents sent me here, I’ve done so much. I’ve got to accomplish what I set out to do."
AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.