Pennington still popular in Knoxville

Elwood and Denise Pennington, parents of New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, stand next to his jersey Thursday at Webb School. Following the career of the Jets' young quarterback is popular at the Knoxville, Tenn., school where Pennington graduated in 1995 and his parents work.

? Blame Chad Pennington for children watching football instead of doing their homework on Sundays.

He’s also the reason some mild-mannered parents in Knoxville drive to sports bars to watch the New York Jets.

Keeping up with the Jets’ quarterback is the thing to do for parents, students, faculty and alumni at Webb School, the private school where he graduated in 1995 and his parents work.

Before being a star on Sundays in the NFL, Chad was a Webb School Spartan wearing No. 10 — still his jersey number.

“From our kindergartners, the faculty and our alums, everyone watches Chad,” Webb athletic director and football coach David Meske said.

The excitement has mounted through the season as Pennington, the first quarterback drafted in 2000, took over from Vinny Testaverde after the Jets started 1-3 this season.

Pennington has gone 7-4 since then to give New York a chance to win the AFC East.

His hometown fans still remember him playing in Spartan green on Webb’s small field beside woods and a golf course.

“Turning on the TV and watching him play on Sunday, you’re proud, you’re excited, you’re nervous,” Meske said. “You want him to do so well every time he’s out, to complete that next pass.”

People at the school also have his parents to keep them updated. His mother, Denise, teaches ninth-grade English, and his father, Elwood, is one of the assistant football coaches.

“They feel like he’s their own,” Denise Pennington said.

Some parents who never went to sports bars before sheepishly confided to her that they have left home to watch games on satellite.

The Jets’ Monday night game at Oakland on Dec. 3 was particularly hard on the school the next morning.

“We all stayed up after midnight,” assistant football coach Clark Wormsley said.

“Everyone was droopy because of it,” Elwood Pennington said as the coaches sat in a school office reminiscing about their star player.

What they see now doesn’t surprise anyone at Webb.

“He studied the game all the time,” Meske said. “He could have played every position on the field. That intelligence has really come through at the college level and the NFL.”

Chad’s ascent to the NFL is particularly remarkable considering his high school isn’t known for football.

The school prepares students for the rigors of college academics, not college football. Pennington, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, got both.

“Our team was undersized and didn’t match up well with most teams,” he said. “The odds were against us.”