Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. carries the ball during a spring scrimmage on April 30 in Seattle. (Cheyenne Boone/The News Tribune via AP)

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. carries the ball during a spring scrimmage on April 30 in Seattle. (Cheyenne Boone/The News Tribune via AP)

UW names Penix Jr. starting quarterback

The Indiana transfer outlasts Dylan Morris and Sam Huard to start for the Huskies in their opener against Kent State.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Michael Penix Jr. has long been a home run hitter.

The fifth-year junior’s father, Michael Penix Sr., told The Seattle Times last spring that “we used to see him hit little baseballs deep, over the house, at the age of two. If you pitched to him, he’d hit it.”

When given the opportunity, Penix doesn’t miss.

The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Indiana transfer was officially named Washington’s starting quarterback Tuesday, outlasting sophomore Dylan Morris and redshirt freshman Sam Huard. He earned the job 10 days before UW opens its 2022 season by hosting Kent State inside Husky Stadium.

“I think Mike’s just been solid, consistent, day in and day out,” coach Kalen DeBoer said Saturday, following UW’s second scrimmage of preseason camp. “He does a great job picking up and seeing protections and getting us in the right plays. He knows what the offense is supposed to look like, too. So that helps as well. He makes the plays when he needs to.

“Between he and Dylan, they can rip it from one side of the (field) to the other, so that puts a lot of stress on the defense from sideline to sideline.”

DeBoer knows this better than most. UW’s debuting head coach served as Penix’s offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019, helping the Hoosiers match their highest win total (8) in 26 seasons while producing the Big Ten’s No. 3 total offense. In a six-game stint, Penix completed 68.8% of his passes — a program record — with 1,394 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

“DeBoer knew how to manage the game,” Penix Sr. said last spring. “He seemed like he knew exactly what to do in situations, and he could adapt. Because we both know that defenses do change. They try to mimic what you’re trying to do. It seemed like DeBoer had a little wrinkle all the time for defenses when they figured out what he was trying to do.”

Likewise, Penix Jr. said he ultimately chose Washington because “it just felt like home. Obviously knowing coach DeBoer already, being with me at Indiana in 2019, I just felt like we had a good connection. I love the offense that he brought over there for us, and we continued to run that offense. So I felt like it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

But how integral a part will Penix play? In 20 career games at Indiana, the two-time captain and 2020 All-Big Ten second-team selection completed 59.4% of his passes for 4,197 yards, with 35 total touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

But here comes the caveat.

Each of Penix’s four collegiate campaigns have ended with injuries — torn ACLs in 2018 and 2020, a sternoclavicular joint (connecting the clavicle to the sternum) injury in 2019, and an AC joint shoulder issue in 2021. He’s never played more than six games in a season.

Which means, while Washington’s quarterback competition is over, it isn’t really over. Morris (who has started 15 games across the last two seasons) and Huard (who made his first career start in the 2021 Apple Cup) must remain ready to help Washington win.

But Penix, for one, isn’t worried about being labeled “injury prone.”

“Obviously the main thing (offensive coordinator Ryan) Grubb tells us is to always make sure we keep ourselves up, as far as protection checks. Always make sure we’re in the right protection, getting stuff picked up,” Penix said this month. “But you’re going to get hit. You can’t be scared of that in this game. It’s a contact sport. I have no hesitation about that.

“I’ve been hit before. I’ve taken a lot of hits and I’m still going to pop back up and keep going.”

Four years, four injuries and one school later, Penix is still stepping up to the plate.

“I love the guy. Oh my goodness,” UW associate head coach and passing game coordinator JaMarcus Shephard said with a grin. “He’s just got some poise back there, and he throws a really tremendous ball.

“I like that he can throw it from a lot of different arm angles. I like that he doesn’t make a lot of excuses about if the plays should have been made this way or that way. He does a great job of coming and talking to the guys instead of complaining about what happens. To me, those are the leadership qualities that you want to see from your quarterback.”

Penix — who hails from Tampa, Florida, 3,100 miles southeast of Husky Stadium — settled in Seattle because “it just felt like home.”

From both corners of the country, from one home to the next, he’s not done hitting homers.

“It’s been good,” Penix said of UW’s preseason camp. “I’m just focusing on what I can control, just making sure I come out here and be the best version of myself every day. I’m being that same guy every day for my teammates and coming out here and being a leader and pushing the guys to be great. That’s all I’m here doing.”

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