For years, Marshall University football fans’ fondest dream has been for former star quarterback Chad Pennington to return some day.
It’s highly doubtful that ever will happen.
But, perhaps, the Thundering Herd faithful will get the next best thing.
Marshall offered Pennington’s oldest son, Cole, a football scholarship Tuesday morning.
The younger Pennington is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior quarterback at the Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky, and is a class of 2022 prospect. The first day major colleges could offer prospects from that class was Tuesday and Marshall quickly pulled the trigger.
“My first initial reaction was complete surprise,” said Pennington, who coaches Sayre School’s football team. “I haven’t had any contact, obviously, with the staff other than short hellos and things like that. I had been contacted by Coach [Greg] Adkins [MU offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator].”
Then Pennington took a quick verbal mulligan.
“Actually, let me back up,” he said. “Cole had texted me saying Coach [Tim] Cramsey [MU offensive coordinator and quarterback coach] would like to speak with me today [Tuesday] and what do you think?
“I said, ‘Well, I think it’s just going to be a five-to-10-minute introduction conversation because I know this is the first day of recruiting. So go ahead and do it in your study hall and that way you don’t have to wait until after practice.’ ”
Then the plot thickened.
“I get the call from Coach Adkins and Coach [Mark] Gale [program assistant] that they’re going to offer him,” said Pennington. “So then I called Cole’s counselor and said, ‘Can you bring Cole into your office so he can make the phone call at 11:40 a.m.? I’m sure he’ll be excited, so you’ll probably have to calm him down a little bit.’ ”
Nice audible, Chad.
“You know, he feels honored and I feel honored,” said Pennington, “but at the same time we want him to go on his own merit. I will say he has worked extremely hard this spring.
“He has added 15 pounds and really changed his body athletically. And academically he’s going really well, so it’s a first step. But I certainly think it gives him motivation to continue to work hard and go after his dreams, so I think he’s excited.”
What a fun first step. Imagine Cole being offered a scholarship by his mom and dad’s alma mater.
“We know that there will be different thoughts and opinions on that, and that’s OK,” said Pennington. “That’s part of the territory. I’ve always talked about how he’s got to put his head down and go to work and just work as hard as he can in the classroom and on the field and just enjoy it.
“Don’t get bogged down by it. Enjoy being a high school student-athlete. For his mom and I, we’re sad to see him go in two years. We love raising our boys. The time has flown by for sure.”
Cole is the eldest of three Pennington sons. And he’s getting bigger.
“He is heavier than I was,” said Pennington, who watched while Cole passed for 1,384 yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2019 season. “I was 6-2, 175 pounds as a senior. His legs are a little different than mine. He’s got a longer lower torso than I do, and he’s got big ol’ hands and feet.”
Just listening to Chad’s familiar voice during the telephone interview, it was easy to tell he’s happy with how Cole has progressed.
“Yeah, I am,” said Pennington. “I think he did a really good job this spring during quarantine. He set himself a schedule and he was fortunate to have a great virtual experience at Sayre School. The faculty and administration did a great job of that.
“And then he set himself a schedule with his workouts and with his throwing and he was very diligent with it. He worked extremely hard.
“He worked with my quarterback coach for the [NFL’s] Miami Dolphins, David Lee. And he worked with my trainer down in Knoxville [Tennessee], Charles Patrone.
“He really focused in on changing his body as well as his mechanics and getting those correct. He just was very intentional about what he needed to do, and he’s done it this far. We both know he’s still got a long way to go, but he’s really taken a nice first step in his development.”
Cole obviously is extremely motivated. But how could any son of Chad Pennington not be?
“He is,” said Pennington with an appreciative chuckle. “He enjoys playing. He really enjoys the game of football. He enjoys being with his teammates. He loves everything about football — from the game to the locker room — just the whole experience. He really enjoys that, so that’s why he wants to go after it.”
Now, here’s the biggest question:
How did Pennington’s wife, Robin, react to the news that Marshall had offered her first-born?
“Uh, she told me I was lyin’,” said a laughing Chad Pennington.
Ah yes, a fun day in the Pennington household.
“It is, it is,” said Chad. “The recruiting process has changed so much. It actually can be very difficult and stressful for families just because of social media. The information is readily available.
“Your whole goal is your child enjoys his high school experience and doesn’t get caught up in things he can’t control. That’s the whole thing. Just enjoy the moment now and work toward the goals in the future and let’s see what happens.”
Cole, who will turn 17 on Jan. 21, is fortunate to have his dad. That’s because Chad has been down all the roads and there’s nothing that’s going to happen that Pennington hasn’t already seen.
“I tell him sometimes,” said Pennington, “ ‘Hey, I’ve got a few answers to the tests, so you may want to listen to me every once in a while.’ ”
Perhaps that’s why Cole Pennington wears No. 10.