Being a big time NCAA athlete probably sounds appealing to most young folks. Playing under the bright lights in a big stadium, seeing your name in the papers, your likeness appearing in video games – all perks of being a collegiate athlete.
But a high level of commitment is required to achieve such success, and not just on the field. These athletes are practicing all the time, working out regularly, going to class and finding the time to study.
Following through on commitment was the message that Joel Penton brought to the students of Warsaw Community High School on Monday, Sept. 22.
Penton is a 2003 graduate of Ohio State University. During his five years with the Buckeyes, Penton was an NCAA National Champion, three-time Big 10 Champion, four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a Wuerffel Trophy (referred to as the Humanitarian Heisman) winner. Since graduating, he’s become a motivational speaker, a best selling author and he’s toured over 500 schools.
“I remember being a seventh grader and saying, ‘I love football, and I’m going to be the best football player I can be,'” he told the standing-room-only crowd of students and faculty at the Warsaw Performing Arts Center. “I surrounded myself with friends who were kind of like me.”
He said that he recognized early on that when his peers got into the wrong stuff, they began to fail. Penton had no intention of failing.
But, during his junior year of high school, those same friends began to lose sight of the goal. Penton said one by one, each member of his peer group began to experiment with drinking and partying on the weekends.
“Before I knew it, I was the only one in the group not going out and getting drunk,” recalls Penton. “All of a sudden, I wasn’t spending any time with my tight group of friends.”
His friends began to resent him for his life choices, even going so far as to turn him away from a group hangout. “I’ll never forget coming home that night and feeling pretty crushed,” he said.
“It wasn’t long before everybody seemed to have a problem with me,” he continued. Penton recounted being selected the winter homecoming king during his senior year and being booed by most of the student body as he accepted his crown.
“It was a tough time,” he admitted. “There were a lot of times I felt like breaking my commitment.”
Staying the course would eventually pay off in a big way. One day OSU’s head football coach, surrounded by an entourage, paid a personal visit to Penton’s high school. He offered the young athlete a spot on his team. Following through on the commitment he made as a seventh grader gave Penton, among many things, a huge national championship ring.
“Every day, when I put on this ring, what I think about is how grateful I am that I actually kept my commitment,” he said.
Penton’s appearance helped kick off College Go! Week at WCHS. This state-wide initiative is designed to help provide students with the resources to help student plan for post-secondary education.