BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana junior quarterback Mike Penix Jr. declared himself “on schedule if not maybe a little ahead of schedule” in his rehab from his second torn ACL in the span of three years.
Penix said he’s not running or throwing yet, and it’s unlikely he’ll take part in any drills when spring practices start March 9 and run through the end of April.
“I’ve been working extremely hard to get back,” Penix said. “I’ve been doing everything I can to go out and just continue to help motivate the team, still be the leader, even though I can’t do certain activities. But I’ve been doing really good progressing every week and I feel myself getting a lot stronger and feeling more comfortable in my body.”
Penix stopped short of guaranteeing a return for IU’s Sept. 4 opener at Iowa.
“Right now, I’m just sticking with the program, more rehab stuff right now,” Penix said. “On-the-field stuff will come later. I’m not really worried about that right now. Just make sure I stay focused and doing whatever the trainers are telling me, just making sure I’m staying healthy outside of the facility … making sure there are no setbacks.”
Penix suffered the torn ACL during the third quarter of IU’s 27-11 win over Maryland while scrambling out of bounds Nov. 28. Without Penix, IU went 1-1 in its final two games, beating Wisconsin 14-6 and losing to Ole Miss 26-20 in the Outback Bowl.
The chances for IU to build off its 6-2 season, its most Big Ten wins since 1987, rests in large part to Penix’s ability to return by the start of the season. Penix earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors at quarterback last season, passing for 1,645 yards and 14 TDs before the injury. IU is 10-2 in games Penix has started over the last two seasons and 4-5 without him starting under center.
IU strength coach Aaron Wellman said Penix is having “good days and bad days” in his rehab. At this point, both player and strength coach are celebrating the small steps forward.
“Guys who are competitors always find a way to get themselves ready to go, and Mike’s no different,” Wellman said. “Mike wants to be great. Mike is a really good player, wants to come back from this season stronger than he was prior to the injury, and that’s a common trait among competitive athletes who love their sport and love what they do. So I have no concerns with Mike as far as his work ethic and his ability to come back from this.”
Penix described the bad days as some stiffness and soreness.
“Maybe sometimes, but it doesn’t affect anything, really,” Penix said. “I still get everything done that I need to get and still being safe at the same time.”
Penix said he’s received support from family and teammates since the injury. Motivation has come in the training room from teammate Marcelino Ball, who suffered a torn ACL last summer that sidelined him for the 2020 season.
“My family and friends and teammates, they kept me up. They kept me positive,” Penix said. “This is something that, you know, I don’t wish on anybody, and nobody wished they were in this position, but having them be on my side, push me every single day, telling me to stay motivated and continue to chase my dream, that was really helpful.”
Penix is excited about the potential of IU’s offense in 2021. The return of senior receiver Ty Fryfogle, who earned Big Ten wide receiver of the year honors last season, gives Penix the same downfield threat he utilized last season. Fryfogle finished the season with 37 catches for 721 yards and seven TDs, with three of his seven touchdown catches coming against Ohio State.
“That’s something that we had talked about. We talked about it for a while,” Penix said. “He was really honest with me. He said he wanted to come back, wanted to be a part of the program, continue to help build the program up and continue to have a connection. That’s something that’s really big for our offense. He made a lot explosive plays in big-time moments.”
The rest of the offense should benefit from a full spring and summer under second-year offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan as well, even if Penix won’t be under center for at least spring drills.
“That’s something that we talk about every day. Make sure we get together, throw quarterbacks to the receivers as much as possible. Just make sure that we get that chemistry, something that we couldn’t really get last year but we picked up on it,” Penix said. “I feel like just having this opportunity is definitely a great thing.”
In addition to announcing spring practices starting March 9, IU also announced it plans to hold its pro day April 2 at the school facilities. Last year’s pro day was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will be a chance for several former IU football players who declared for the NFL Draft to showcase themselves in front of scouts, including defensive back Jamar Johnson, running back Stevie Scott III, wide receiver Whop Philyor, center Harry Crider, punter Haydon Whitehead and defensive lineman Jovan Swann.