Trevor Penning sat in a back room of The Other Place in Clear Lake, Iowa on Thursday night. He was surrounded by his friends and family as he anxiously shook his right foot for much of the evening.
Dozens of people had gathered at The Other Place in anticipation of Penning being selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Penning and his loved ones were separated in the party room with only a few coaches and members of the media on hand.
Throughout the night, Penning’s cell phone never left his hand as he awaited the phone call that would change his life.
At 9:05 p.m., after a longer wait than he’d anticipated, that phone call finally came through.
After a few moments in conversation, Penning hung up the phone, embraced his family and waited for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the announcement Penning had worked so hard to hear.
“With the 19th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft the New Orleans Saints select Trevor Penning, offensive tackle from the University of Northern Iowa.”
People are also reading…
The room erupted as Penning put on a baseball cap that read “New Orleans Saints.” His smile beamed from ear to ear. The rest of The Other Place could be heard shouting in jubilation as the Clear Lake native and Newman Catholic graduate became the first UNI player ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
“This is incredible,” Penning said. “To think I’d be in this situation five years ago, no way. This was always part of the plan, but over the years I started seeing I had more and more of a chance to play at the highest level...”
Coming out of high school, the 6-foot-7, 325 lbs. Penning only had two Division I offers, both at the FCS level. At UNI, he developed into an FCS All-American and entered the draft process viewed as a fringe first round pick. To work his way up to the 19th overall selection wasn’t easy.
“It was a lot of work,” Penning said with a laugh. “Double days, extra conditioning, extra field work, extra film work, everything. It all translated to what you’re seeing now. I wasn’t built this way, I put in tons and tons of hours. To do that and have it pay off is incredible.”
Early on, there might have been some concern it wouldn’t happen Thursday night.
After five defensive players went in the first five picks, three offensive tackles were selected in the top ten. Teams then began selecting interior linemen, including the Los Angeles Chargers, who’d spent a great deal of time talking to Penning at his Pro Day.
Penning didn’t deny that there were some nerves.
“My heart was racing,” Penning laughed. “I thought my heart was going to explode. I listened to all the talk and saw other linemen going. I saw teams picking receivers and I was like, ‘shoot, I need something to happen.’ But it was awesome. It was definitely perfect timing. New Orleans is going to be an awesome place.”
With the offseason departure of starting left tackle Terron Armstead, Penning will have every opportunity to lock down a starting position with the Saints. He’ll join one of the most respected O-lines in the league, learning the ropes from Pro Bowl right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and former first round picks Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz. He won’t be alone, either, as the Saints also drafted Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave with the 13th overall pick.
Of course, football isn’t the only thing about New Orleans he’s looking forward to.
“(I’m excited for) the food,” Penning said with a laugh.
The excitement of Penning’s family, friends and fans couldn’t be contained. He immediately told the New Orleans media on a Zoom call “I just can’t wait to get down to New Orleans!” The moment the Saints called him, he could be heard saying, “I’m doing much better now that you’re calling.”
He talked about how his selection showed that no matter where you come from, anything is possible if you put in the work. He talked about what the Clear Lake, UNI and Newman Catholic community has meant to him. While he’s the first UNI player to ever be chosen in the first round, he hopes he isn’t the last.
The community of Iowa will always be with him. It’s that community that helped him realize the goal of playing college ball. It’s that community that helped him realize the dream of being drafted.
Now, he sets his mind on a new goal.
“I’m ready to get down there with the NFL guys,” he said. “I’m ready to compete, I’m ready to play, and I’m ready to go win a Super Bowl.”