By GERY WOELFEL
When Trevor Penning stumbles across a photo of himself as a teenager, it’s virtually impossible for him to suppress a laugh..
“I was about 210 pounds as a junior in high school,’’ said Penning, who attended Newman Catholic High School in Mason City, Iowa. “I’ve looked back at some pictures from then and … Wow. I was a twig.’’
These days, the 22-year-old Penning looks like a giant Sequoia. He’s a massive man. He stands 6-feet, 7 inches and tips the scales at 325 pounds.
Not only is he imposing physically, Penning’s got a downright nasty demeanor – as many college defensive linemen have rudely discovered in recent years when they irritated this mountain of a man from Northern Iowa University.
Penning’s imposing physical stature combined with his curmudgeon personality on the football field has many NFL teams salivating at the prospect of selecting him in the upcoming draft.
“People are going to find out that you don’t mess with this guy because he has the ability and nastiness to take care of himself,’’ said Northern Iowa defensive line coach Bryce Paup, a former Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills star who was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year while playing for the Bills in 1995.
“When that whistle blows, watch out because, if he’s pissed at you, you’ll find out in a heartbeat.’’
Penning is projected to be taken in the middle-to-late first round of the draft, starting April 28. One of the teams that has conducted extensive research on him is the Green Bay Packers. They are in the market for a offensive tackle after not re-signing Billy Turner. What’s more, David Bakhtiari, the Packers’ All-Pro left tackle, is still recovering from a serious knee injury that required surgery.
The Packers are expected to address their tackle concerns in this draft just like they addressed their center issues in last year’s draft. That’s when, after standout center Corey Linsley bolted Green Bay in free agency for San Diego, the Packers drafted Josh Myers in the second round.
While Penning would certainly plug a gaping hole at tackle for the Packers, he could play guard as well, according to Paup.
“I think he can play guard or tackle,’’ Paup said. “I think he’s a good enough athlete and good enough blocker and good enough pass setter.’’
Penning recently exhibited his athleticism for the Packers and numerous other NFL teams at his Pro Day. That came on the heels of an impressive showing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month.
At the Combine, Penning was clocked at 4.89 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That was the fourth-fastest time among offensive linemen and the 16th fastest ever by an O-lineman at the event.
He also recorded the fastest time in the 3-cone drill at 7.25. That was the seventh fastest time ever for an O-lineman at the event.
Paup isn’t prone to hyperbole, but he fairly gushes about Penning. Paup contends Penning reminds him of two former great NFL offensive linemen.
“Trevor is maybe a crossover between like Leon Searcy and maybe a little bit of Tony Boselli,’’ Paup said of Searcy, who had a highly productive 10-year pro career, and Boselli, who was recently chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “If he can get his hands on you, or punch you, you better have your feet under you and be ready because, if you’re not, you’re going to be thrown out of there.
“I mean this kid is strong. He came to us at around 230. He looked unimpressive and underwhelming, at best. But he kept his mouth shut and worked his tail off in the weight room and gained probably at least 100 pounds. He’s as strong as an ox.’’
And someone who could strengthen the Packers offensive line.