Veteran offensive tackle
“To play for a team that you grew up cheering for… in high school I was a Raiders fan and in college I was a Raiders fan when they played Tampa, the team I played for, for eight years,” said Penn, who started his NFL career with the Buccaneers. “In the Super Bowl I was going for the Raiders. It’s crazy. It’s hard to sum it up. It’s a great feeling. I want to be one of the guys that when they talk about the Raiders, who have a lot of great years, hopefully they’ll talk about my time here too when it’s all said and done in the history books.”
Penn began playing football as a sophomore in high school. Prior to his football career, the 6’4” lineman was focused on basketball. It wasn’t until his first season as a starter in football that he realized he had real potential for the NFL. “It’s funny, growing up, even during high school, I thought I was going to the NBA,” explained Penn. “I played basketball my whole life and when I got into high school, playing football and basketball, there weren’t too many basketball colleges hitting me up; it was a lot of football colleges hitting me up. Once I got into college and after my redshirt freshman year, and starting and playing the whole year, I knew I could do it and had an opportunity. I played against Iowa, some big schools, and I held my own against some big-name people and I really thought, ‘I’m only a freshman, if I keep getting better, I really have a chance to do it.’ It drove me from there on.’”
The big offensive tackle went undrafted out of Utah State to the Minnesota Vikings, but after starting the season on the practice squad, he was signed to Tampa Bay’s active roster. Penn went on to play eight seasons and start 108 games for the Bucs.
Going undrafted and being under the radar for so long has given Penn the drive to prolong his successful NFL career. “I think my athletic ability, my drive, and my competitiveness of always wanting to be the best and wanting to be one of the best…I got doubted a lot coming out of college and I had a great college career and I got looked over a lot,” said Penn. “And not getting drafted, I still think about that all the time. Athletic ability and a chip on my shoulder – that’s what makes me good and makes me successful.”
Photo by Tony Gonzales
Now heading into his ninth season, Penn moves back to his home state of California. While the weather is familiar, the veteran wasn’t sure what it would be like to switch locker rooms, essentially, for the first time. “It was a little different. It was a lot of wondering, not knowing what you were going to walk into and how the guys are going to accept you and stuff like that,” he said. “And being here, I think the guys on this team, especially the guys on the O-line, they really made the transition easy for me and they accepted me and brought me in very well. I was surprised; I thought it was going to be a little bit different, but it went a lot smoother than I thought.”
The culture of the entire locker room, but specifically the offensive line room, has made the transition comfortable. “It’s a bunch of characters. We have fun. We joke around, but when it’s time to work, we work,” said Penn on the offensive linemen. “That’s one thing about us, we have one of the best O-line coaches in the NFL and he lets us have our fun and when it’s time to work, we know when to work. We’re real laid back. We’re guys that have a lot to prove and want to come out here and try to be one of the units to lead this team.”
That offensive line room is made up of veterans and many young players, so Penn has taken advantage of the opportunity to mentor the younger guys. “I do embrace it, but sometimes I try to sit back and lead by example,” said Penn. “A lot of people can talk and hoorah and all that, but I try to lead by example and have them see me doing stuff, or have them see coach correct me on something and me really go out there and work and try to fix what he’s correcting me on. And if they do come up to me, I’m all ears and all in to help them out as much as possible, which has happened a lot since I’ve been here.”
The camaraderie of the unit is one of the reasons Penn loves football. “I love the team. The team, the sport, being a team…you meet a lot of great people playing this game, a lot of great friends,” he said.
Penn finally had the opportunity to experience a “W” in Silver and Black when the Raiders hosted the Detroit Lions in Preseason Week 2 action at O.co Coliseum. It was the first time Penn put on the Raiders home black jersey. “It was crazy. I was walking on to the field before warm-ups and I had to ask one of the guys, what side is the Black Hole, what side is it? It’s fun.”
The offense was introduced to the crowd and Penn ran out of the tunnel as a Raider for the first time. “It was crazy; it was real exciting. I was very happy. I was excited and I was really excited just to go out there and try to show them that they got something good in me as their left tackle. I really wanted to go out there and prove myself and show them that I’m a good player. That game was so loud towards the end of the game when we came back and won. I wish I was in there during that time, but it’s a great feeling.”
Penn has been a part of Raider Nation since he was a kid, but he’s never had Raider Nation cheering for him until now. It’s a feeling he is embracing and enjoying. “They’ve been great. They’ve been hitting my Twitter, even before I made up my mind and I was traveling to other teams, they were very convincing,” said Penn. “One thing about Raider Nation, they’re going to tell you when you’re wrong and they’re going to tell you when you’re right and they’re going to love you when you’re wrong or when you’re right, so that’s a good thing to have. They always have your back. We have a great fan base. When I went out to Oxnard, it was crazy. I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is a good feeling.’ It makes you want to go out there and do as much as you can to turn this thing around for the fans.”
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