BLOOMINGTON – Michael Penix Sr. had an inkling his son could be a special quarterback at an early age.
Mike Penix Jr. was 7 years old, playing quarterback in a youth football game in Dade City, Fla., when he danced around the pocket to avoid defenders. As the fastest kid on the field, Penix could have easily raced for a touchdown. But Penix kept his eyes downfield, waited for a receiver to get open and threw a strike for a touchdown pass instead.
Now, 12 years later, Penix Jr. will get a chance to show that poise under pressure when Indiana plays Ball State at Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium (noon, CBS Sports Network). Penix Sr. will be there for his son’s collegiate starting debut, along with Penix Jr.’s mom, two younger brothers, uncles and grandparents. The family rented a van and drove 16 hours from outside of Tampa to Bloomington on Friday.
“He’s my son, so I want it all for him,” Penix Sr. said. “If you see me, I’m not going to show it. My wife will be screaming, yelling. She’s his No. 1 fan. I’m more of a low-key fan.”
IU football coach Tom Allen announced Penix as the starter Monday, saying one of the reasons he won the job was his poise. Allen said Penix has continued to demonstrate it in practice leading up to the Ball State game.
“In some ways, he seems even more relaxed once we made that decision and he knows he’s the guy,” Allen said. “We’ve just got to go play ball. But, obviously, game day is going to reveal all of the preparation.”
That calm demeanor comes from Penix Jr.’s football bloodlines. He’s been around the game all his life. His father was a former running back at Tennessee Tech who went on to coach high school football in Pasco, Fla., a suburb north of Tampa. Penix Jr. was 2 years old when he first roamed the sidelines.
By the time Penix Jr. reached high school, he was a passing prodigy at Tampa Bay Tech, throwing for 61 TDs and six interceptions in two seasons as a starter. Scholarship offers came from across the country. Penix initially committed to Tennessee but wound up signing at Indiana when the Vols fired Butch Jones and hired Jeremy Pruitt.
The first adversity to hit Penix Jr. in his career came last season, when he tore his ACL in an Oct. 21 game against Penn State. Penix appeared headed to win the Indiana starting quarterback job as a true freshman, having passed for 219 yards and a touchdown in three games off the bench. Instead, the season turned into a redshirt year, and Penix Jr. faced a long stint of rehab.
For Penix Jr., who comes from a spiritual family, it was a test of faith. Penix Sr. told his son God had a plan for him.
“There is a reason why this happened,” Penix Sr. said. “I told him, you could either do two things, you could fold or you could move forward.”
Penix Jr. put in the work during rehab. By March, he was appearing in non-contact portions of spring practice. Penix Jr. said by June he was feeling 100 percent. He took a hit to the injured leg during fall camp and came through it OK.
“It showed me that I’m ready, and I don’t have anything to worry about,” Penix Jr. said. “I just need to go out and play.”
IU sophomore running back Stevie Scott III said Penix Jr. appears even calmer than last season, when he was thrown into Big Ten competition as a true freshman.
“People haven’t seen Penix other than in games,” Scott said. “In practice, he’s good. He’s going to have to show the world, really. I can’t really explain too much what he does in practice, but he’ll definitely be able to show it to the people who have been watching and just shock the nation.”
Penix Jr. feels like his poise comes from preparation, film study. He’s in the film room every day, studying his reads.
“Just making sure I’m totally on point,” Penix Jr. said.
As far as leadership, Penix Jr. can be vocal but does it in a one-on-one fashion, not wanting to show up a player in front of his teammates.
“Communicating to somebody one-on-one is a lot better than just out loud to the team,” Penix Jr. said.
Ultimately, the Penix Jr. era at IU will be judged by wins and losses. Allen could have taken the safe route and gone with Peyton Ramsey, a redshirt junior who started all 12 games last season. But Penix Jr. won the job in camp and is eager to show the coaches he can keep it for the entire season. Penix Jr. said Allen offered him an important piece of advice he will heed going into the season.
“Make sure that the team trusts you, believes in you because that’s what you need as a starting quarterback,” Penix Jr. said. “You need everyone to trust in you and buy into everything that you put in towards the team.”