By KEN DENBOW | Mission Times Courier
Del Cerro resident and St. Augustine football star, JT Penick, is one of an elite group meeting the highly selective requirements of the U.S. Military Academy. He is currently enduring the eight-week Cadet Basic Training (CBT) at West Point. “The Beast,” as the CBT is affectionately known by those who have completed it (those currently in it have less complimentary names for it), is a test of physical and mental toughness for future military leaders. For JT, The Beast was no surprise… his brother, Nathan, graduated from West Point in 2016.
“I expect it to be challenging,” JT said. “It will be hard physically, the weather will be hot. Self-discipline to meet the rules makes it mentally challenging. I think I’ll come out a better man.”
The 18-year-old former linebacker for St Augustine carried a 4.0 GPA average, while earning a football scholarship to West Point, earning a Gold Medal Athlete Award as best athlete of the year, and helping the team to a CIF championship. He led the team in tackles, scored one touchdown on an intercepted pass, and another while playing the tight end position. He was offered football scholarships at other colleges, including University of San Diego, and was invited to try out at UCLA. Why would he choose West Point instead of a school with far less discipline and a bigger party scene?
“I like the history and traditions of West Point,” JT said. “It’ll prepare me for the future, either in or out of the Army. I like the academy’s motto of ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’ I like the concept of putting others first, working for the greater good, and protecting our freedoms.
“My brother had a big impact on my decision,” he continued. “We have always challenged each other, and I suspect we will continue to do so in the Army.”
JT (he decided to be called by his initials at an early age) is setting a high bar for himself. Nathan recently completed the annual Ranger competition, coming in third of 50 two-man teams in this elite group.
Selection to West Point is highly competitive. The acceptance rate is about 10%. In addition to rigorous academic standards, the applicant must meet strenuous physical requirements, and be nominated by a congressperson — Rep. Susan Davis in JT’s case — and no special treatment is accorded those recruited for sports.
Once accepted, the new cadets attend classes during the academic year. In the summer, they are assigned to field units of the Army to gain insight into career paths available. The cadets do not incur a service obligation until the start of their junior year. After that, if they do not complete college, they must serve as enlisted persons for various lengths of service, depending on education completed. Upon graduation, the newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants are required to serve five years to repay the taxpayer’s investment in providing a tuition-free college education.
Many football players shy away from the service academies because of the service requirement following college, which would interfere with a possible NFL career.
“For right now, I’ll concentrate on playing well at the college level,” JT said. “Army plays some pretty stiff competition. I’ll worry about the NFL if it comes up.”
JT has not decided on what fields he will pursue in college, or later, in the Army. He may follow his brother into the Rangers.
By choosing the military, JT will not be following in the family business, T.B. Penick and Sons. If he had chosen that route, he would have been the fifth generation in the 105-year-old company.
“I do get a feeling of pride when I see the business name stamped in concrete all over San Diego,” he admits. “But I’ll leave that to my sister, Grace, who is already working with dad.”
Following The Beast, JT will start workouts with the football team. One challenge will be getting up to weight to play linebacker. In high school, he played at 6-foot-3-inches, 210 pounds. Army coaches want him at 240.
JT has chosen a challenging and rewarding way forward in serving his country. It takes a special individual to choose the path of service and selflessness, becoming a team player in defense of our country.
Good luck and God bless, JT. And thanks for your service.
— Ken Denbow is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.