In Saturday’s game against Illinois where the Badgers put up 48 points, tight end from Orange, Calif., Kyle Penniston saw his second career touchdown as a Wisconsin Badger.
The 6-foot-4, 223 lb. redshirt freshman was a four-star recruit out of Mater Dei High School and was ranked the number 6 tight end in the nation by Rivals and number 10 by ESPN. Now at UW, Penniston is taking full advantage of the history of the program, particularly for tight ends, and the wisdom of his teammates to build his own game and make a difference on the team.
“We have all these legends that came through here, so we’re just trying to uphold the tradition that they all came through with and left when they went to the next level,” he said.
While Penniston only had one catch for seven yards against Illinois, he made it count with the touchdown.
Of his performance, he said, “I thought I did pretty good. The team got the win so there’s not much to complain about there. Individually I thought I executed enough. Obviously, there’s all these things to keep up, but we got the team goal which was to get the win.”
Penniston was also playing with two quarterbacks in senior Bart Houston and fellow redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. While Hornibrook has seen more snaps come game time, it was Houston to Penniston in the second quarter on Saturday’s game, putting Wisconsin up 28-3 with 12:24 left in the first half.
“They’re both very talented quarterbacks,” Penniston said. “They both do certain things really well. They both take control of the huddle very well. While there’s two different faces in the huddle, there’s still a presence of a leader in there.”
In his first year on the field, Penniston has had the privilege of working with two more experienced tight ends in junior Troy Fumagalli and senior Eric Steffes. Not only do the two older tight ends give the Penniston the advice and support on the field, but also off whether he Is having difficulties in school or feelings of homesickness.
Some of the best advice Penniston has received from the two tight ends was against Georgia State early in the season when he said he was having some difficulties on offense.
“They told me to take a breath, step back and just imagine we’re out there on the practice field. Do what you love. Just pretend it’s you and the ball and no one else is here.”
Penniston would go on to score his first career touchdown in that game.
As his first regular season with the Badgers come to a close with a road game against Purdue and a home game against Minnesota, Penniston hopes to continue to improve his overall run game performance, particularly with being a physical run blocker. Whether as a blocker or a receiver, he maintains and openness and willingness to adjust his role on the team.
“I’m just going to do whatever the coaches need, whatever the team needs. Whether that means going out there and catching a couple passes or getting a couple blocks, I’ll do it.”
This season Penniston has five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers sit at 8-2 and first in the Big Ten West with two games left in the season. If they win out, they head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. Penniston attributes the success of the offense to leaders in both quarterbacks as well as offensive playmakers in Dare Ogunbowale and Corey Clement.
“I also think our offensive line, our tight ends and our receivers do take control of the game when it needs to be taken control of. We understand when we need to step up, somebody steps up.”
The team’s confidence in every player’s ability to contribute and every player to be accountable for his own mistakes creates a unity amongst all three phases of football.
“I think we all have each other’s backs, offense, defense, special teams,” he said. “When the offense doesn’t get a great drive, I think the defense covers the offense and when the defense gave up a big play, the offense really tries to respond and help the defense out, putting some points on the board. I think that really shows in everyday life. We’re really a band of brothers. We got to war for each other. I think it really pays off on the field.”