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Stock keeps rising at San Diego State for former Norwalk High star Penny

Ex-Norwalk High star Rashaad Penny gets away from Bryce Peters on one of his career-high seven kickoff returns in San Diego State University's home finale against Colorado State University on Nov. 26. Penny had 113 return yards against the Rams, which is a season-high and second most in his three years at SDSU. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing Photographer

Ex-Norwalk High star Rashaad Penny gets away from Bryce Peters on one of his career-high seven kickoff returns in San Diego State University’s home finale against Colorado State University on Nov. 26. Penny had 113 return yards against the Rams, which is a season-high and second most in his three years at SDSU.
PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing Photographer


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

Rashaad Penny was nothing short of brilliant throughout his three years on the Norwalk High varsity football team. Now, he’s picking up where he left off and excelling at San Diego State University at an even better pace, with mind boggling numbers to back up his success.

During his time on Montezuma Mesa, Penny has emerged as one of the best kickoff returners in the NCAA and has already set the school record with five career kickoffs returned for touchdowns, two short of the NCAA record. Penny has been a key component for the two-time defending Mountain West Conference champion Aztecs, who will be playing in the 25th Annual Las Vegas Bowl against the University of Houston on Dec. 17.

Penny and the Aztecs are sporting a 10-3 mark following a 27-24 win against the University of Wyoming in the MWC Championship game last Saturday evening. And has been the case for the majority of his time in college, Penny had a big part in the win. He rushed for 117 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns against the Cowboys. He also added 113 yards on a pair of kickoff returns. As the Aztecs embark on their seventh consecutive bowl game, Penny is second on the team in rushing yards and touchdowns with 1,025 and 11 respectively. But where he shines the most is on kickoff returns, where he has amassed 575 yards on 18 returns with a season-high 100-yard return against the University of California, Berkley on Sept. 10.

Penny has been on the eyes of many across the landscape of college football over the past two seasons. Entering this season, his name was listed for eight different preseason awards plus being on the Paul Hornung Award Watch List as the Most Versatile Player. He was the MWC Special Teams Player of the Week, Sept. 12 and entering the final regular season game against Colorado State University on Nov. 26, he was the seventh leading rusher in the MWC for the 2016 season, fifth in the MWC in all purpose yards, tied for sixth in the MWC in scoring and tied for third in the MWC in touchdowns. On top of all of that, he is one of seven players in the country with at least nine rushing and three receiving touchdowns and is the only one in the country with at least one kickoff return for a touchdown.

“Those are big time accomplishments but at the end of the day, I’m just playing for the team,” Penny said. “I’m a team guy and I’m enjoying my moment here. But it’s a pretty exciting deal. I try to do my best to win for the team. I’m glad I’m able to do what I have to do and just getting the job done.”

As a freshman, Penny had an even 500 yards in kickoff returns, including a season-high 110 yards against the University of the Nevada, Reno. But it wasn’t until last season when his presence was really being felt. He had 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns against Penn State University in Happy Valley and again against the University of Cincinnati in the Hawai’i Bowl. Last season, he was third on the team in rushing with 381 yards and scored four touchdowns while leading the team in kickoff returns (24), yardage (804) and touchdowns (three). Needless to say, college life has been everything he expected.

“Definitely, this is a great experience, and just seeing it all pass by is crazy,” Penny said. “I never knew how time really passes [by] and just getting it done is the most important thing. But I just keep fighting and just seeing what happens.”

When Penny was at Norwalk, following in the footsteps of older siblings Robert and Elijhaa, he was force to be reckoned with in Norwalk’s vaunted double wing offense. In his senior season of 2013, Penny rushed for 2,520 yards and scored 40 touchdowns in helping the Lancers to a Suburban League title and a berth in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division championship game against La Serna High. He left Norwalk with 81 career rushing touchdowns, 22 receiving touchdowns and four more on returns. When Penny graduated, he left as the 16th player in state history with over 100 career touchdowns.

With the numbers he put up in high school and those he has added in college, he obviously has transitioned well from high school to college

“You have to adjust to the challenge a little bit,” Penny said. “It’s always a little tough. But at the end of the day, it’s all about adjusting to whether you like it or not and just sticking with you best decision. And that’s what I did and I’m glad I’m here.”

“We think Rashaad is a very good running back and also a great kick returner,” said SDSU head coach Rocky Long following the Colorado State game. “The combination of him and D.J. Pumphrey complement each other. They have different styles, so we think Rashaad is a good running back in his own right. Obviously as he gets better, he gets the ball more often. He’s an important ingredient to any success that we have.”

Long was referring to senior running back Donnel Pumphrey, who leads the Aztecs with 2,068 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Pumphrey now has 6,290 career yards and needs only 108 more against Houston to become the NCAA’s all-time career leader in rushing yardage. Penny says that he has been a big influence on him and what he has learned during his time at SDSU will help him next season as he is projected to be one of the top running backs, if not the top, for the 2017 campaign.

“He’s definitely a big brother role model-type to me,” Penny said. “I’ve watched everything he does and it’s amazing what he does. All of the other running backs in the room will tell you the same. It’s constantly hard work. He amazes some people, but at the end of the day, it’s just preparation and watching what he’s doing and keying in on every move he makes. I’m just trying to be like him.”

Recently, Penny was named the MWC Special Teams Player of the Year again and in 40 collegiate games, he has 62 kickoff returns (fourth in SDSU history) for 1,879 yards (second in SDSU history) and the five touchdowns. He needs 31 kickoff returns and 337 yards to be No. 1 in those two categories.

As a freshman, Penny had played against the second of the four brothers in the family, Elijhaa, who was a junior at the University of Idaho. Now, Elijhaa Penny is a member of the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. With the numbers he has already put together, the NFL just might see another Penny running up and down the field for the 2018 season.

“We’re a hard-working family,” Penny said. “We lead by example and that’s what we’ve been able to do. Our family is just unique; we’re just one of the most humbling people you’ll ever meet. We probably barely talk. It’s definitely a humbling experience and we like it.”