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We should be happy for Trent Pennix and the culture of NC State football

Pennix has been patient and ready for his turn

Clemson v NC State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

There are complaints that can be and have been levied at Dave Doeren during his tenure at NC State. The one undisputable aspect of his organization is a strong culture. Trent Pennix may embody that culture as much as any player to come through in the last 11 years of the Doeren era. The Graduate tight end is in his sixth and final year of collegiate eligibility, thanks to the extra Covid year. He is not just a super senior, but he is a SUPER senior.

For the last couple of pre-seasons, there has been hype that Pennix was going become a game-breaking X-factor. In times when he has been featured, he usually delivers. It’s been quite frustrating for the fans who want to see more of him but for him to be stuck on the sidelines, though he has struggled with injury the last two seasons. He showed many flashes in the 2021 season, highlighted by a career high 97 receiving yards at FSU on just three catches, including a 45 yarder. Expectations were high for him going into 2022, even though he missed spring practice as he continued to rehab following off-season surgery.

Right out of the gate, he missed six games after getting hurt in the season opener. He returned against VT and promptly scored a touchdown. Then in the final home game was injured again vs BC and missed the ensuing Louisville game. He tried to come back at UNC but did not record a catch. The coaches, specifically then-OC Tim Beck, clearly wanted to get him involved throughout the season as he played 176 snaps for the season and started all five games in which he played.

During his time at NC State, he has seen other players battle back from injury. Isaiah Moore, Payton Wilson, Devin Leary, the list goes on...players who missed big parts of seasons but worked hard to rejoin the team to contribute. It would have been easy to take the all-too-common path of transferring. Then, when Tim Beck left and Robert Anae came in, it wasn’t clear where Pennix would fit in with the new system. At 6’3”, 235lbs, he’s strong but is one of the fastest players on the team. One hoped that Anae would identify him as an asset to use to the team’s advantage. However, that wasn’t the case through the first five games:

It’s unclear why he was underutilized prior to the Marshall game. In the game against Louisville, Pennix was in for nine snaps, bringing his season total to 86 snaps for the season, averaging around 19 snaps/game for the previous four games, though only a scant few targets each week. That number took a jolt when he tallied 27 against Marshall. Of these, he only had three receptions. But the play design was similar to how we was used during MJ Morris’ stint at QB in 2022.

This was his TD against VT in 2022. He feigns the block then releases wide open in the end zone:

Then last week against Marshall, Anae flipped a similar setup that results in two similar looking touchdowns. Here is the one from the second quarter, going for a 39 yard score:

And the sequel came in the third quarter, resulting in a 62 yard touchdown:

Both of these plays had similar setups to the one used against VT last year. Not surprisingly, that also was with MJ Morris at QB. Clearly, Anae saw a connection there and wanted to flex on it. Or maybe he got tired of seeing opposing teams use the late leaking tight end for big gains and thought to pull one of those himself. It’s not just the designs of these plays, but the way MJ Morris delivers these passes on and perfectly in stride for Pennix to get that highly desired YAC. The two catches were about 10-12 yards out each, but both resulted in huge gains. Yes, Pennix was wide open because of smart route running, but Morris dropped it right in the basket so Trent could use his speed to take off.

Ultimately, I am so happy for Trent Pennix, and really hope this is just the beginning of his moment in the sun. The fans have been waiting for years and I hope that the coaches don’t forget about him now. It’s kind of hard to forget about these kinds of game busting plays, and he clearly has an immediate chemistry with MJ Morris. Knock on wood no injuries come back to bite either of them because they could brewing a nice stew here. It also shows the value of the culture Dave Doeren has established during his time here. Pennix stuck with the team through thick and thin, and they are sticking with him. These are the success stories we love to see, and here’s hoping for more huge plays from him moving forward.