Clay junior quarterback Joshua Pennington got his first chance to see the Eagles’ new offensive playbook in early June, and he dove right in.
“I learned it pretty quickly,” he said. “I put in the time to study it. I studied it every day.”
After a 3-7 season a year ago, Clay coach Mike Donnelly knew he had to have a more effective Pennington under center this season. He made the decision to switch from an option-oriented offense to more of a spread attack in order to make better use of Pennington’s skills.
“He’s handled it very well,” Donnelly said. “There’s less thinking and decision-making in the spread than there is the option. We wanted to take a little more of the burden off the quarterback and put more of it on me. Josh is more of a pocket-type quarterback. He has some quickness and mobility, and we try to fit our offense to our kids. So far, so good.”
The Eagles took a 2-1 record into Friday night’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference opener against powerful Central Catholic (3-0). Pennington has completed 41-of-68 passes for 755 yards and six touchdowns, with two interceptions. He has also rushed for more than 200 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Pennington completed 11 of 15 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in last week’s 48-12 rout of rival Waite (0-3). The Eagles opened by outscoring opponents 113-57. A missed extra point in a 24-23 loss to Perrysburg (2-1) kept Clay from starting 3-0 heading into TRAC play.
Asked how much more comfortable Pennington looks every week, Donnelly said, “loads.”
“He’s getting better and better and making faster decisions,” the coach said. “He’s continuing to progress and, hopefully, he’ll keep improving as the season goes on.”
Pennington said Donnelly told the team over the winter that the Eagles were switching their offensive philosophy in 2012. Pennington said one reason the offense has clicked better this season is because he and his receivers are putting in some overtime.
“Before practice and after practice we would do extra stuff to work on routes,” he said. “Even today, we have to get 15 completions on every route. There are about 10-11 different plays and about 12 different routes, and there are four or five receivers on every play. I like to pass, and I think this offense is perfect for me.”
Donnelly said one reason Pennington became comfortable with the spread offense so quickly was because he was thrown into the fire right away.
“We threw the whole thing at him at the beginning of summer,” Donnelly said. “I allowed him to call plays in all of our seven-on-sevens (drills) this summer. He got familiar with the offense that way and he got to find out what he liked and didn’t like. That got him comfortable with what we were doing. He got to make the decisions about what plays to run.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Pennington, who transferred to Clay from Lake after his eighth grade year, admitted he wasn’t a big fan of last year’s offense.
“We didn’t pass a lot,” he said. “In the new league we’re in, running the ball might not get it done every time. I like rollouts and boots a lot, too. Being in the pocket can get a little bit clustered and things happen real fast. When you’re rolling out, there aren’t as many people there to tackle you. Our offensive line is doing fantastic. The sophomores last year are juniors now and they know what to do.
“I think I’ve done a lot better than I expected myself to do. I didn’t do a very good job last year. I’ve come a long way and I’ve surprised myself.”
Donnelly said that although Pennington usually has a quiet demeanor, he also exudes confidence.
“He’s a good student, very hard working,” Donnelly said. “He watches film and stays after practice with the wide receivers. He’s everything you look for in a quarterback.”
Clay will have to get a consistent performance out of its offense – Pennington in particular – if it hopes to continue winning. The Eagles went into Friday heading into the meat of their schedule that included games against Central Catholic, St. Francis de Sales, Whitmer, St. John’s Jesuit and Findlay.
Pennington is confident this year’s team can hold its own down the stretch.
“Everyone has to be doing their job,” he said. “When one guy doesn’t do their job, you can’t win. You have to have all 11 guys doing their job. If we handle our assignments, we’ll put ourselves in the right position to win.”