Family Matters: Dynamic QB Penson Jr. Follows Dad to Willowridge
HIS SOPHOMORE YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL STILL MONTHS FROM COMPLETION, KENDRON PENSON JR. HAD A GROWN-UP DECISION TO MAKE THIS SPRING.
The precocious quarterback could stay at Hightower, where he’d helped lead the Hurricanes to a Regional Final last year. Or, he could follow his father Kendron Penson Sr. to Willowridge, where Dad was named head coach of his alma mater in early April.
“It was a hard decision,” said Penson Jr., who goes by “KJ.” “Leaving people I played with my whole life... that was tough. Having a chance to play for my dad was the only reason I left.”
Now the Pensons are tasked with lifting the Eagles, who have not won a playoff game since 2016.
Hightower won three playoff games last season, when Penson thrilled as a spectacular dual-threat signal-caller. Willowridge has two playoff wins since 2004.
“It’s about bringing that intensity I had at Hightower to Willowridge,” KJ said. “It’s on me to tell other guys what to do and help them understand things and what our offense is trying to do. It’s going to be a long process. But as you get down the road, and people start to understand roles, that’s when you start going where you want to go.”
Penson Sr., previously the assistant head coach/offensive line coach at Hightower, will be calling the shots. But it’s Junior
whose play and presence will determine just how high the Eagles rise.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound KJ was fantastic last season for the 11-3 Hurricanes in his inaugural varsity season, completing 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,488 yards and 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions, while rushing for 257 yards and six more touchdowns. He brings instant credibility and playmaking to an Eagles program desperate for marquee talent.
KJ was wise last season to listen to seniors like Caleb Douglas and Kaleb Johnson, whose leadership skills and wisdom he adopted.
“The experience last year made him a great leader,” Penson Sr. said. “Now he can
show these guys over here how to win and the ways of excellence. We have some great kids here. It only makes them better because he’s been there before. These guys haven’t been to the fourth round, but we plan on being there.”
KJ first picked up a football when he was four years old. He started as a middle linebacker before switching to quarterback four years later because of Michael Vick.
“The way he used to play inspired me to play quarterback,” KJ said.
KJ is expecting an even better season this year in Willowridge’s Air Raid offense.
Hightower’s offense was run-oriented last year, with the occasional downfield bomb. Willowridge plans to employ a quick-game, fast-paced scheme with a lot of intermediate passing.
KJ spent much of the offseason honing throws across the middle of the field and speed training. He hopes to show off more of his talent in the open field as a runner.
For now, he understands everything is a process. Learning a new school, a new program, new systems. And playing for Pops.
“He’s tough on me,” KJ said, laughing. “It can be difficult at times. But I know it’ll payoff in the long run. He’s a really good coach. You can see the change he’s making as far as the work ethic and the mindset. His focus is only to make all of us better.”