PARKERSBURG — Brandon Penn’s athletic ability on the football field was obvious to anyone who had seen him play at the safety position his first three years as a Parkersburg South Patriot.
What wasn’t on display often those seasons was the possibilities with the football in his hands.
Few spectators had seen what he could do at quarterback since his sophomore season. One broken collarbone signal calling versus Point Pleasant placed him almost exclusively on then-head coach Mike Eddy’s defense.
Nate Tanner’s arrival as the Patriots’ new head coach, this offseason, dramatically changed Penn’s situation. The senior assumed command of Tanner’s high-energy, run-pass option attack. Knocking off the rust didn’t take long. Penn steered the Patriots to only the program’s third-Class AAA state semifinal appearance and an 11-2 record. His arm and legs aided the South cause with over 5,000 yards of total offense alongside 44 touchdowns.
These numbers helped him make Parkersburg South history today. Penn has been named the 2019 JR House Award winner, given to the top quarterback in the state of West Virginia by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
“This is something amazing. It means a lot honestly,” said Penn of the honor. “I knew I had the ability to do good things. I know how good I am and this is exactly what I had hoped for. I give a lot of credit to coach Tanner. He made it easier on me and just talked about the game plan and took the load off my back. I trusted in our practices and tried executing the best I could.”
Penn owning this confidence in his talent helped him approach Tanner in a summer practice.
The Patriots were searching for a new quarterback. Everyone on the team expected him to step up and Penn shared the past with his new leader.
As it turned out, Tanner had viewed film of Penn and knew what he was capable of in his offense.
“He is just a great athlete and I had seen him throw the ball and saw he had some arm talent. In our offensive system where you can run and throw, he just made our offense more explosive,” said Tanner, whose first Patriot team established a new single-season school scoring record of 42.5 points a game.
TNT was expertly planted at nearly every game. When the explosions occurred, they happened in and out of the Patriots’ offensive backfield.
Penn finished the 2019 season with a 56% completion rate for 2,251 yards and 25 touchdowns to four interceptions.
His legs made him even deadlier upon escape from the pocket. He tacked on 1,853 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.
The ability to allude defenders became more important as South started three new offensive linemen.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking at first,” said Penn of assuming a position absent from his mind for two years. “But I got used to it and built my trust with the linemen and receivers and it just worked overtime. There were definitely some games we wouldn’t have won if I didn’t trust my line and tried to run every time.”
Plays against the Morgantown Mand South Charleston highlighted his abilities during the deep playoff run.
Mohigan Preston Fox received an up close and personal look at Penn’s elusiveness in a Dec. 18 matchup. Penn had just escaped the pocket with Fox bearing down on him for an open-field tackle. In the blink of an eye, Penn performed a 180 twirl and galloped downfield for 38 yards and a first down.
Black Eagle defensive lineman then learned the trust and arm strength in a playoff loss to the Patriots. SC’s defensive ends penetrated the offensive line often during the first few drives of the game. Penn’s confidence in his protectors never wavered.
Penn connected on two passes of 30-plus yards in a second quarter where the Patriots pulled away for good. His 38-yard connection to teammate Dylan Day put South up 14-0 in an eventual 47-13 victory in the opening round of the playoffs.
Tanner said his quarterback’s preparation no matter the time of year made him stand out.
“He treated the three-week period just like fall practice. We played in over 20 7 on 7’s and Brandon just kept getting those reps in the passing game and really improved drastically,” said Tanner.
Penn added his film study proved just as useful.
“I watched film for a couple hours at a time and would look back on my profile to see how I handled certain situations to see what I should do and how I reacted,” said Penn.
The House Award is named for former Nitro quarterback J.R. House, who broke national passing records, throwing for 14,457 yards during his time with the Wildcats from 1995-98.
Penn stood tall in a field of dual-threat quarterbacks. Martinsburg’s Elijah Banks, Wheeling Park’s Alex Dunleavy, Fairmont Senior’s Gage Michael, and Mingo Central’s Daylin Goad also led their respective teams to the postseason.
He will be honored at the 74th Victory Awards dinner May 3, 2020, at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.