When the state playoffs arrive each fall, Lawrence High football coach Dirk Wedd promotes a handful of sophomores to his varsity roster, giving the youngsters a taste of life in the big leagues and a bit of motivation for the future.
Scott Penny doesn't have any idea what that was like. He didn't get the proverbial "cup of coffee." Instead, he got a fork and knife and directions to start gulping down a nine-course meal.
"I had to grow up quick. The coaches told me, 'You're not a sophomore anymore,'" Penny said. "I learned a lot of lessons pretty fast there."
When Penny steps on the field for tonight's Class 6A state quarterfinal against Olathe South - at either linebacker or tight end, depending on the coin flip - it will make 32 straight games with his name in the Lions' starting lineup.
Sophomores playing varsity football in the state of Kansas is nothing new. There are plenty of small towns where the number of kids who might show up in a given August to knock heads is a dicey prediction, and coaches gladly would take a 6-foot-1, 215-pound youngster and immediately plug him into duty - the fact that he can't even get a driver's license yet be damned.
However, sophomores playing varsity football at Lawrence High - that's a different story. A football program doesn't win 26 state titles by making a habit of plucking fresh-faced kids from the local junior high program and giving them an immediate shot at winning a varsity letter.
Still, Wedd knew he had something special when Penny joined the varsity squad for weightlifting sessions before embarking on his 10th-grade year at LHS and held his own, unwilling to be intimidated by the very upperclassmen he grew up idolizing.
"We had a little bit of a read on him during summer," said Wedd, reflecting earlier this week on the first impression he developed more than two years ago. "We knew what type of kid he was."
Of course, it didn't hurt that Penny had lineage on his side. Older brothers Nate and Jon suited up for the Lions during the glory days of former LHS coach Dick Purdy, which meant the youngest member of Penny clan knew exactly what it would take to have a successful career on the gridiron.
"Most of all, he bleeds red and black because he's grown up around it all his life," Wedd said. "That was a huge advantage. It wasn't like he walked into it with his eyes wide open."
That didn't mean there was any shortage of awe on Sept. 5, 2003, when Penny lined up across from the Leavenworth offense as a starting defensive end.
"I was definitely a deer in the headlights when I first got here," Penny said. "I've just kind of grown into it."
The current edition is a high school senior who now is a polished two-way starter on the football field, a defending state champion in the shot put and, for good measure, Lawrence High's student-body president.
"He's just one of those kids, he's got great character," Wedd said. "He's a kid you would take home and keep. Then, on the field, he knows how to flip the switch and turn into an inside linebacker in the Sunflower League.
"The greatest compliment," Wedd added, "is he's going to be a success in life - and that's much more important than football."