Pennell provides mammoth contribution

Pennell provides mammoth contribution

He stands at 6'5" 350 lbs. and goes by the nickname ‘The Beast', which is tattooed on both of his calves. He plays with a mean streak and is just what the Sun Devils have been searching for up front. ASU fans got their first glimpse at JC transfer Mike Pennell Friday evening as the defensive tackle suited up for his first practice in the maroon and gold, quickly making an impression.

A moment's glance is all you need in order to spot Mike Pennell on Arizona State's Kajikawa practice field. He's without a doubt the largest man out there and it's plain to see he has one objective; to take up space and dominate on the defensive line.

With his first ever Sun Devil first practice in the books and his inaugural taste of a Head Coach Todd Graham's high octane session behind him, a pleased, albeit winded, Pennell was elated to be on the field.

"It went pretty well," Pennel said. "You know, the first day, I'm just trying to get used to the speed of practice. That was the only thing that was a bit of problem but I think we kind of got used to it (by the end)."

An Aurora, Colo. native, Pennell spent the last two years playing just down the road from Tempe at Scottsdale Community College. At one point it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would eventually migrate to Tempe but as the Sun Devils' 2011 campaign spiraled out of control, the defensive tackle found himself reconsidering his options before eventually coming back to where he always felt most comfortable.

"The whole recruiting process was actually pretty crazy," recalled Pennell. "I was leaning one way and then leaning the other, but eventually I decided I just wanted to have fun with my last two years in college. I already had some friends that played for this team with Matthew Tucker and Junior Onyeali - I know Junior from Colorado and went to high school with Matt - and I just wanted to end my football career with them here in college."

While some Sun Devil fans are still trying to get over the circus-like debacle that took place following the dismissal of Dennis Erickson trying to find a new head coach, Pennell asserts that he felt encouraged by the choice Arizona State ultimately made and his immediate connection with Coach Graham eased his doubts, leading him back to the Sun Devils.

"The first day (after becoming head coach), actually, Coach Graham came out here and brought with him his whole staff," Pennell recalled. "I was in his office meeting with him and they didn't even have keys yet to the facility or anything. So I really appreciated that and he told me all about how he was going to run the program and I liked everything he said about that.

"Coach said he wanted to run a disciplined program. I told him I want to be the best defensive tackle in the nation. I want the best brought out of me, I don't want to be catered to. And he said he'll do that for me."

Since his hiring, Coach Graham has aggressively been trying to re-shape the Sun Devil culture. Discipline, accountability and strong work ethic are cornerstones of what he expects of the program, and are all things Pennell concurs with.

While the junior college transfer has only been around the team for three short weeks, it's easy for Pennel to see the changes that have already occurred since his recruitment.

"This is a very big change from Coach Erickson's staff and it definitely takes some time getting used to," Pennel admitted, "but he's getting the best out of us as football players and I appreciate that. And the discipline and everything else that he's doing has a purpose. You may not see it now, but you'll definitely see it later on the field.

"What we do out here on the practice field will eventually translate to the games."

Along with getting used to the fast break style of play Coach Graham has brought to Tempe, Pennell has also been receiving his first taste of the new strength and conditioning program that Coach Shawn Griswold has been implementing and putting his players through this summer.

Even at a lean 350 lbs. (a weight Pennell carries very well), the defensive tackle confesses that the workouts have been exhausting to say the least.

"Coach Griswold and Chris (Desrosiers, assistant sports performance coach) man, they've been killing me since I got here," Pennell said with a smile. "Honestly, the conditioning they've got us doing, it's the hardest thing I've ever done. But I know it'll get me in the best physical shape and help me move around, especially being 350 pounds, and help me become the best defensive tackle in the country.

"I just want to be at the best physical condition I can be to play at 350 and dominate the Pac-12."

Last year at SCC, the defensive star racked up 39 tackles, 13 for a loss and 2 sacks. His style of play surely warrants a nickname such as "The Beast."

"I'm very aggressive, very mean," Pennel described. "But I play under control. You aren't going to see a lot of personal fouls but I do get nasty and I don't appreciate double teams, so you'll see me beating up a lot of those."

In recent years the Sun Devils have played a 4-3 defensive scheme but with Graham's arrival practices have featured 3-4 alignments at times, and on Friday the 3-3-5 scheme made its debut. Regardless of the defensive system employed, Pennell knows he'll be front and center in the trenches, waiting to create havoc.

"They (ASU coaches) want me to play the nose and anchor the defensive line," he said. "They said they're going to use me also in the 4-3, we're definitely going to use that. I'm just trying to get adjusted to everything right now."

Fall camp may have just begun, but the Sun Devils are less than a month away from their season opener against Northern Arizona. Just as ASU followers count down the days towards August 30th, Pennell is just as eager to get his first action inside Sun Devil Stadium.

"Man, I feel like I'm back in Pee-Wee and it's Saturday morning and I'm in the car with mom, you know," Pennel commented. "I'm just real excited and can't wait to play. I mean, I'm proud to be an Artichoke alum, but to be a Sun Devil…I've watched all their games since I came out here for junior college.

"I feel like I've been real close with the program and having friends out here has helped me get to know all the other players. And now that my name is getting known out here a bit, I just can't wait to play for all the Sun Devil fans."

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