After a string of frustrating injuries, Indiana head coach Tom Allen had a plan for his starting quarterback going into the offseason.
And much like he did on the field when healthy in 2019, Michael Penix was executing on that plan at a very high level.
At its core, the idea was that Penix needed to get bigger and stronger to help him endure the physicality of Big Ten football.
“We set out a plan for him and his weight has increased quite a bit since the end of the season,” Allen said in February as the team was getting set to embark on spring practice.
After checking in on the 2019 roster at 202 pounds, Penix added more than 15 pounds while rehabbing from a shoulder injury that ended his 2019 season.
“He’s close to 220 — 217, 218 right now,” Allen said in February. “Really changing himself there which is really important.”
Penix officially weighed in at 218 on the 2020 spring roster, and he looked noticeably more muscular as IU took the field in March.
That was then.
The annual Cream and Crimson spring game should be in 10 days, but instead Penix, like just about everyone else around the country, is back home.
Tampa, Fla., to be precise.
Penix is long way from the IU weight room in the the north end zone of Memorial Stadium, and a long way from the training table meals that college athletes are accustomed to.
But while much has changed over the last month, Penix found a familiar face to help keep him on the plan.
“My mom’s been cooking a lot for me,” Penix said this week on a teleconference.
And so far mom’s home cooking has been on point.
“My weight’s definitely been staying the same, if not going up a little bit. I’m certainly not losing any weight,” Penix said.
While everything he knew a month ago has changed, Penix believes that maintaining his new physique is part of his commitment to his team.
And that is fueling him to find answers rather than excuses.
“I can’t just go out and come back not my weight. That would be letting my team down and that’s something I’m not going to do,” Penix said.
While mom is keeping Penix well fed in the kitchen, the challenges in the weight room and on the football field are far greater.
The biggest challenge of them all?
What weight room? What football field?
Penix’s experience over the last month has been like most everyone else throughout this evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
Just when you think you find an answer to get you through your new reality — things change.
“At the beginning of this, we were on the field. We were going basic quarterback drills, just continue to stay fresh on mechanics,” Penix said.
As a quarterback, Penix needs plenty of open space to refine his craft.
And day by day, that space is shrinking.
“As they’re closing the fields down here, it’s just been a lot of fractional work. Making sure that we’re studying film and helping me just continue to focus and stay sharp on my game,” Penix said.
Probably no one has had a greater challenge in the IU program in recent weeks than new strength coach Aaron Wellman.
All Wellman has had to do in his first days on the job is design customized training plans for every player on the team, that he has never met, based on the equipment that they have, or don’t have, available at home.
Allen remarked that Penix had been one of the top five performers in the workouts back at the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium over the winter.
Weight training is the key component to Penix’s additional pounds.
But now the redshirt sophomore has been reduced to what he has available, and Wellman’s plan.
“He (Wellman) gave us all workouts,” Penix said. “He made them specific for whatever we had. He sent out body workouts if we don’t have weights. He sent out dumbbell workouts. If you have a full gym, he sent us a full gym workout. He’s been talking to us and continuing to tell us that working out is going to keep us in shape. I’ve been training and running on my own for the most part.”
There is one more thing that Penix is missing throughout this strange new reality. Something every good quarterback needs.
Penix has been staying in touch with that group remotely, and he hopes to reunite with the guys that are uniquely capable of providing him with the repetitions he needs soon.
“I’m going to go back to Bloomington soon just to get with some receivers. We are always communicating. We always talk about how we want to run things,” Penix said.
But as for when that will be?
Penix is stuck under the same cloud of uncertainty as the rest of us.
“No specific plans yet. It is whenever the time comes,” Penix said.
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