Tyler Pennington grew quite familiar with Illinois State’s football program when he was playing at Cary-Grove.
Redbirds coach Brock Spack and his staff recruited Pennington heavily, but the Trojans’ career rushing leader wanted a shot at the highest level of college football and chose to walk on at Arkansas.
A year-and-a-half later, ISU got its man. Pennington is transferring from Arkansas and is enrolled at ISU for the spring semester. He will join the football team as a walk-on with a chance to earn an athletic scholarship if he earns more playing time.
“They recruited me quite a bit (in high school),” said Pennington, who has three years of eligibility remaining. “They were my No. 2 behind Arkansas. If I didn’t go to Arkansas, I probably would have gone there. From what I know, they run an absolutely great program. They’re consistently winning and doing great things.”
Pennington (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) played varsity football for four seasons and rushed for 5,161 yards, placing him among the top 20 all-time in Illinois. He twice was named the Northwest Herald Male Athlete of the Year.
ISU plans on using Pennington at fullback. He also played linebacker in high school.
Pennington joins a program that is 41-21 over the past five seasons. The Redbirds were 13-2 and FCS runners-up in 2014. Pennington will become teammates with three former area players: defensive end Romeo McKnight (Crystal Lake Central), defensive back Jarrell Jackson (Marengo) and fullback Tim McCloyn (Huntley).
“I don’t really know them personally. I actually played with Jarrell when we were really little,” Pennington said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know them. I wanted to get into the program as soon as I could so I could learn the offense. [The coaches and players] can learn about me and who I am as a player."