HUNTINGTON — No matter where Lexington (Kentucky) Sayre quarterback Cole Pennington decides to go to school, the early level communication classes will be no problem for him.
The ultimate test, however, has become trying to decide a school for Pennington, who is one of thousands of Class of 2022 prospects who saw COVID-19 take away a majority of their recruitable time as prospective student-athletes.
Cramming all of their research in recruiting into just a few months is the ultimate test and not one that is easy to navigate.
It is the ultimate two-minute drill that will impact the futures of many lives, as Pennington pointed out on Friday during his unofficial visit to Marshall.
“The past year and a half, not being able to get out and see places and just get the feel has been tough,” Pennington said. “The most important thing in recruiting and deciding where to go is to get that feel. It’s not seeing the picture of the stadium. It’s being on campus and seeing yourself — Could you go there if you didn’t play football? Could you see yourself there as a student? — so that’s the most important thing — just getting that feel.”
On Friday, Pennington’s recruiting journey took him to a place that is he well-versed — the confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium where his father, Chad, starred as a quarterback and a place he’s been to numerous games with his family.
In 2021, however, Pennington’s viewpoint is different — one as a recruitable athlete.
One of the rules changes granted by the NCAA to help offset the lost recruiting time was the ability for coaches to conduct on-campus evaluations during unofficial visits on the days football camps and clinics are allowed in June and July 2021.
Therefore, Pennington’s unofficial visit to Huntington included a workout for Marshall’s coaching staff, who watched intently with each movement as Pennington threw an array of passes and showcased footwork and agilities.
Upon completion of the session, Pennington smiled at the new-found viewpoint from which he just worked. It was one he’d dreamed of as a young player within the game.
“I walked out of the field when I was coming out for the workout, and I was like, ‘This is a lot bigger that what I thought it was in the stands,’” Pennington said. “It’s just really cool to come out here and be able to play on the field.”
Pennington was offered by Marshall in Sept. 2020 — his first offer — but Friday was his first opportunity to get on the field in front of the Herd coaching staff with Charles Huff at the helm.
Other offers are there from Eastern Kentucky, which came in January, and UT-Martin, which came last week.
The 15 months taken from Pennington and other 2022 recruits due to COVID-19 has hindered the ability to get in front of other teams, making the recruiting process-to-date reliant on highlight clips, Zoom calls and virtual tours of campus — not exactly an ideal scenario.
It left many prospects like Pennington wondering when their chance to shine would be.
That time — albeit a smaller window — is now and Pennington doesn’t plan on letting any day slip by his grasp.
Just as Pennington saw the stadium in a new light on Friday, those affiliated with Marshall’s program also saw Pennington received in a different light, which has been a quiet inner drive motivating him.
“It’s important to the coaches, too,” Pennington said. “Coach Cramsey and Coach Huff, for example, have been telling me they are recruiting me because of who I am as a person and who I am as a player...
“I can take what my Dad did and watch his game, but also make myself my own player and my own person in this game.”
After 15 grueling months of wondering when he’d finally get a chance to do so, Friday provided the opportunity to do just that.
On Friday, the curly-haired quarterback may have walked in as Chad Pennington’s son, but he made sure he was known as ‘Cole Pennington, Class of 2022 quarterback prospect’ as he left.