As a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, Jon Penny was a fourth-string quarterback and reserve linebacker for Lawrence High.
Roughly one year and 40 pounds later, Penny has emerged into an all-Sunflower League linebacker and all-state candidate for the Lions as they prepare for a Saturday showdown with Blue Valley Northwest. Kickoff for the Class 6A state football playoff is at 7 p.m. at Blue Valley NW.
"I gained a lot of weight in the offseason, worked out and ate a whole bunch," said Penny, now a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder.
Penny's weight gain came shortly after having his tonsils removed.
"I gained about 20 pounds right after that," Penny said. "I guess I got healthy or something."
LHS coach Dick Purdy said it wasn't uncommon for a player to gain weight after a tonsillectomy.
"I've seen it happen a lot of times," Purdy said. "I tried it with my own son and it didn't work."
Penny has led the Lions in tackles in each of the first nine games. He also has one of Lawrence's 17 interceptions.
Speed and instinct have enabled Penny to be the Lions' leading tackler.
"The instant he recognizes a play he has the ability to accelerate," Purdy said. "He's made some big plays against some fast backs on the sweep."
Penny has popped a receiver or two while they cross the middle of the field.
"He's made some big hits on those wide receivers catching those short passes," Purdy said.
Penny's days at quarterback help him play defense.
"When you're a linebacker, it helps to know what quarterbacks are thinking," he said.
Penny has been thinking about football his entire life. His grandfather, Junius, was an all-state lineman for Lawrence in 1940 before playing for Kansas University. Junius' brothers, Paul, Stan and Charlie, all played for Lawrence in the 1940s.
Jon's brother, Nate, was a standout linebacker for the Lions before graduating in 1992.
Jon's father, Bill, who grew up in Emporia, holds KU's school track record in the hammer throw, set in 1971.
"I've been watching football all my life," Jon said.
For his first two years of high school, Jon played at Overland Park Aquinas before deciding to return to the Lions.
"It was too long of a drive," Penny said. "I had all my friends in Lawrence. I wanted to play for Lawrence High."
Besides being a standout linebacker, Penny received all-league honorable mention at tight end. A solid blocker, Penny has four receptions for 51 yards.
"I was surprised about being picked at tight end and linebacker," Penny said. "There are so many good linebackers in the league. Even on our team you could have picked (Aaron) Flory or (Charlie) Bremer on first team."
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