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Matthew Morris Matthew Morris BVM Sports Journalist

NFL Draft watch: Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning

Editor’s note: The New Orleans Saints selected OL Trevor Penning with the No. 19 pick in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (BVM) – As Trevor Penning continues to train for the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, the former University of Northern Iowa offensive tackle can’t help but look back at how far he has come.

“It just shows hard work can go a long way,” Penning said. “The amount of hours and hours I’ve put into this thing and just working on myself. It’s crazy to see how far I’ve come.” 

The 6-foot-7, 320-pound redshirt senior from UNI is considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the draft this year and is expected to go in the first round. Based on the current projections, Penning

Trevor Penning UNI New Orleans Saints
Trevor Penning has always played football with passion and that has led to his ‘nastiness’ on the field. (Courtesy: University of Northern Iowa Athletics)

could also be one highest-ever drafted Panthers, beating Brad Meestler, also an offensive tackle, who was drafted 60th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000.

“We’ve had some UNI legends come through here so potentially being the No. 1 guy I think it’s super cool and hopefully it can happen,” Penning said. 

Just last year his former teammate Spencer Brown was taken in the third round of the draft by the Buffalo Bills and was their starting right tackle as a rookie.

“It’s cool to have a guy right above you have real good success in the league this year,” Penning said. “I mean starting as a rookie for the Bills, that’s crazy, that’s really good so that’s really cool to see the success he’s been having.” 

Penning did talk with Brown to get his advice about the process, but really Penning has just continued to do what he has always done. 

“Working hard everyday, getting ready,” Penning said. 

Currently that means training down in Frisco, Texas with Duke Manyweather, one of the premiere offensive line scouts and trainers in the nation, as well as Lee Spellman, an elite speed performance coach. Then it’ll be the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama before heading to the NFL Combine. All in the name of showing everyone what he has to offer. 

“I just want to back up that talk at the Senior Bowl and the combine to show that I literally am that guy,” Penning said. “I want to be hopefully the top tackle in the class, that’s the goal.”

Trevor Penning New Orleans Saints
Trevor Penning’s draft stock really rose during his redshirt senior season. (Courtesy: University of Northern Iowa Athletics)

However, the talk around Penning wasn’t always about being a first round draft pick. In fact there was practically no talk at all when he was coming out of high school. The Newman Catholic High School product out of Clear Lake, Iowa only had two offers from the University of South Dakota and the Panthers after his senior year. 

Penning opted to stay in Iowa and attend Northern Iowa. He redshirted his freshman year and began working with UNI’s offensive line coach Ryan Clanton.   

“He’s helped me a crazy amount … Pretty much everything related to football he’s helped me out and helped me elevate my game,” Penning said. 

Penning even credits Clanton for helping him hone his intensity on the field. Penning has always played the game with a certain level of ‘nastiness’ which is how his coaches have described it. Clanton’s message to the offensive line when he got to UNI was that he wanted his lineman to be like a bunch of dogs being held back by chains that are held by the quarterback. 

“Right when the ball is snapped,” Penning said. “Right when he (the quarterback) claps they’re letting the chains go and you’re attacking the guy across from you and you’re being basically a pitbull trying to take that guy down.”

Trevor Penning New Orleans Saints
Trevor Penning had only two Division I offers coming out of high school, University of South Dakota and Northern Iowa. (Courtesy: University of Northern Iowa Athletics)

Clanton’s message gave Penning a way to visualize his intensity but it has always been there. 

“I just think it’s the mindset you have to have,” Penning said. “Going onto that field you just got to have a switch pretty much. When I’m off the field I try to be the nicest, humblest guy there is but when it comes to that field, man, I’m trying to embarrass the guy across from me. I’m trying to completely dominate him.” 

“You got to have passion to do that. I mean I love football. Being able to play like that comes from passion.”

Along with his passion for football, his coaches and teammates, he also has family pushing him to work every day. Penning’s younger brother, Jared, joined Trevor at Northern Iowa back in 2019, choosing to play for the Panthers and with his brother over NDSU. 

An offensive lineman as well and only two years younger than Trevor, it was a dream come true for the brothers who had never been able to play on the same sports team due to age and the fact that they went to different high schools. 

“We pushed each other hard on the field,” Trevor said. “With the COVID lockdowns we were in our garage working out everyday, pushing ourselves. He’s helped me so much along the way. Hopefully I have as well but he’s helped me a ton, pushing me, just having a built-in partner and somebody that’s always with you has been super awesome to have.”

Trevor Penning New Orleans Saints
Trevor Penning will compete in both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine leading up to the draft. (Courtesy: University of Northern Iowa Athletics)

By the end of his redshirt sophomore season in 2019, the possibility of playing in the NFL was starting to manifest itself. 

“I think I was kind of like, ‘Man I got some stuff that if I clean up and really work on the next two offseasons, I could really potentially play in the NFL,’” Trevor said. “That’s what my coaches were saying to me, that’s kind of what I was hearing and kind of what I saw in myself.” 

It pushed Trevor to work even harder and build upon the foundation that had been set from his first few years with the Panthers. By the time spring of 2021 came around, he was ready to get back on the field. His training had added to his confidence and it showed in his play. 

“After the spring season, I started to hear some talk,” Trevor said. “I was getting some second or third round grades by some national scouts and I was like shoot, why stop there? Just keep shooting for the first round. That was the goal and by the end of my senior season, I was starting to hear a lot of first-round buzz.” 

Trevor’s senior year was the culmination of all the time he spent training. The long hours in the weight room, the changes in his diet and the time spent truly learning the game of football. His season ended with him being a Walter Payton Award finalist and getting named to multiple All-America teams. 

Trevor accomplished what he had set out to do in college. The NFL was always a goal, maybe even more of a dream at one point, but Trevor always wanted to work as hard as he could and try to reach his potential. That was what led him to where he currently is.

Penning New Orleans Saints
Trevor Penning said having his brother Jared (No. 75) with him at UNI was an awesome experience. (Courtesy: University of Northern Iowa Athletics)

And that goal hasn’t changed. Trevor still goes out everyday trying to reach his full potential, the difference is that now it looks like he will have more time to try and reach that after college. 

“I want to reach my potential,” Trevor said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to kind of be like, ‘OK I did everything I could. I have no regrets with anything I did.’ I just want to meet that potential as best as I can.” 

From no stars and only two Division I offers, Trevor has allowed his love for the game and his goal of trying to play to the best of his ability to lead him to a possible first round draft pick. It’s a journey that has been seen countless times in the NFL, but is always refreshing to see. For those who are in the same situation Trevor found himself in, he has one piece of advice. 

“Just work hard and play football,” Trevor said. “It doesn’t really matter where you go if you’re good enough, they’re going to find you. You have to be able to put in the hard work, you have to have passion for the game, you just got to be willing to put in all the hours to help better yourself.”