A Letter to NFL GMs

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“4 season-ending injuries in 4 years, Mike. How do I reconcile that?”

Let’s get straight to it. Chances are this question has come up in your building. You may have even asked it yourself. Truth is, I don’t fault you for asking the question. Before I got into this pre-draft process, I always felt I’d let my tape speak for me. Anything anyone really needed to know about me is in the All-22. The tape shows it all, how our team responds to adversity, how we come together, how we execute. But as these four months have carried on I’ve realized there’s more to it than the All-22.

This is a big decision. Selecting someone to lead your franchise, to wear the name on the front of the jersey with pride, and to make sure every teammate, coach, staff member, and fan can do the same. So, it’s about more than tape. You need to know what I’m made of. This job isn’t just about 60 minutes on Sunday, and what you use to judge my fit as a leader has got to include what’s outside those white lines. On that, it seems there are questions that you need answered … well, adversity teaches a man a lot about himself, so I’ll share some of what I’ve learned. 

I’m a product of Dade City, FL. Population 7,600. No Trader Joe’s, no Whole Foods. No steak houses or country clubs. No personal QB coach, no strength coach, no state-of-the-art training equipment. Nothing about Dade City is luxurious, but that‘s the way we like it. It’s a town full of pride, and a lot of our pride comes from football. We swap out summer camps for tackle football on concrete in the 95-degree heat. You find out quick if you’re built for this game or not.

Michael Penix Jr. | The Players' Tribune | Letter to NFL GMs
Courtesy of the Penix Family

I’m thankful that I grew up in that environment. The reason I’m on your draft board today is because of it. Adversity wasn’t just a buzzword in Dade City, it was in the water. Nothing is handed to you, you have to earn everything. If you fall — you get up. Simply put. 

To think injuries are the only adversity I’ve faced in college would be shortchanging my story. I faced adversity before I even got to college. Two weeks before signing day I was told by the team I was committed to for two years that I no longer had a scholarship. They didn’t think I was good enough to play in the SEC. I decided to go to Indiana because Nick Sheridan was the QB coach, and he believed in me from the time he offered me at Tennessee to when he took his position at Indiana. IU had 10 straight losing seasons when I got to Bloomington, one winning season since 1994. I knew what I was walking into, but I felt I could help turn the program around. In 2020 we became the 7th-ranked team in the country, the highest ranking the program has had since 1967.

We didn’t have any drafted offensive players, but we were together, one team, one mission. What we lacked in recruiting stars we made up for in the collective. We believed in each other. We felt like every time we stepped on the field we were going to win. Didn’t matter who we went up against. That’s how we beat Michigan and Penn State and took Ohio State to the brink. 

Even with that success, I experienced a lot there. From lighting up practice to watching practice on crutches. From getting a shout out from LeBron to being booed in my own stadium. From 4th quarter comebacks to entering the transfer portal waiting for somebody to call. Indiana taught me to never take this game for granted. It also taught me that if I fall, I wouldn’t bet against me getting up.

Michael Penix Jr. | The Players' Tribune | Letter to NFL GMs
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Finally Coach DeBoer called. I remembered the success we had when he was my offensive coordinator in 2019…. Now he had just gotten the Washington job, his first shot at a big-time program. He saw something in me that the rest of the college football world didn’t. It was not a popular move. First time Power 5 head coach and the first thing he does is get a QB transfer who wasn’t thought of as a top 100 player in the portal. And so I wasn’t promised anything. Not a starting job, no NIL deal, no special treatment. Nothing was going to be handed to me. I was going to have to earn everything. Good. That’s what I was accustomed to.

I didn’t know anyone on the team, but I had to win the guys over. I had to convince them to stay and believe in me even though I wasn’t even named QB1. Washington was coming off a 4–8 season. 108th-ranked offense in the country. Morale was low, frustrations were high, but one thing I saw then, which everyone found out later, was the potential that building had. They needed someone to elevate the situation, help realize that potential. Within a season we became the 2nd ranked offense in college football. 11–2 record. Next season 14–1. Highest ranking since 1992. Competed for a national championship. 10–1 vs. ranked teams in a two-year span. That happened for the same reasons that Indiana rose to the 7th ranked team in the country. We believed, we fought, and we handled any and every bit of adversity that came our way. Together we left our imprint on the University of Washington.

Today I look at Coach Kalen DeBoer, Ryan Grubb and Nick Sheridan. The ones that had to make the same decision that you’ll be faced with on draft day. They put their belief in me, and I did everything I could to pay it back to them. I look at the guys on the team that I talked into staying at Washington, who trusted that I was going to elevate them. Now seeing Troy Fautanu, Roger Rosengarten, Ja’Lynn Polk, Jack Westover, Rome Odunze, Devin Culp, Jalen McMillan, and Dillon Johnson all on the cusp of realizing their dream…. That is what brings me joy. As a QB, my job is to be an elevator. I need to uplift all those around me so that they too can be at their best. So just know if you put that same belief in me, history shows I hold up my end of the bargain.

Michael Penix Jr. | The Players' Tribune | Letter to NFL GMs
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I hear it all the time. “He’s been injured, what happens if he gets injured again?” Haven’t I shown you what that looks like? Haven’t I put almost 2,000 plays on tape since my last injury? Since my “fourth-season ending injury in 4 years” that’s constantly mentioned whenever my name is brought up?

Truth is, I’d be more worried if I had never been injured. We don’t all come back the same. I can’t speak for those that have never gone through anything. But I can speak on me. I’ve seen how deep my foundation is. I know the storms I’m prepared to weather. For most people that’d be the end of their story. But there’s more to my story, and I own every page of it.

This isn’t a solo journey for me. There’s been plenty of other guys who were cut from the same fabric, who experienced the same challenges, and displayed the same resilience. Guys you would’ve lost money on, if you bet against them. Guys like Thomas Davis, who went on to make three Pro Bowls after tearing the same ACL three times. Guys like Frank Gore, who had a 16-year Hall-of-Fame-level career at running back after tearing his ACL twice in college.

So I have no problem taking all the MRI’s and X-rays you ask of me. 

Truth is, it’s an EKG that will tell you everything you need to know about me.