This story is written by IndyStar’s Stefan Krajisnik.
It only took Chip Bennett one session to see the potential in IU starting quarterback Michael Penix — then a high school freshman in the Tampa area.
The two worked for about 90 minutes before Bennett got on the phone with the founder of The Stable QB Academy and told him Penix was going to be a big-time talent.
“He’s always just had that eye for talent,” C.J. Bennett, who is the lead trainer and owner of The Stable, said of his father Chip. “Mike was an easy one to pick out.”
The two saw a quarterback with the proper intangibles, athleticism and a frame that was perfect for the muscle mass that would eventually need to be added. Penix continued to come back and train at The Stable, a program in southern Florida that helps develop talent by teaching mechanics and techniques.
“When you know, you know, especially when it’s a kid like that,” C.J. Bennett said. “So as soon as my dad got done working with (Penix), he said ‘He was a little raw, but he’ll be a Division I prospect going into his senior year.’”
Penix developed into a three-star recruit according to 247Sports and ESPN, drawing offers from Oregon and Florida State, among others, but eventually chose Indiana after decommitting from Tennessee. He’s back home in Tampa now, working with his friends from “The Stable,” because spring football nationwide has been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Penix has plenty that he’s aiming for. After tearing his ACL during his true-freshman season, he was named IU’s starter heading into 2019. But after just six starts in which he displayed tantalizing arm talent, Penix suffered a season-ending injury to his right sternoclavicular joint leading to yet another offseason of recovery.
But what his quarterback coaches in Florida saw in a high school version of Penix continues to be his driving force to return from more adversity. He’s out on the field with Bennett, working on his footwork during simulated drop-backs and other drills, throwing to the receivers he has at his disposal.
“He knows what he wants,” C.J. Bennett said. “And he’s definitely hungry for some more success.”
The Stable QB Academy helps train high school recruits to specialize in specific skills needed for the next level. The Bennetts start their search for talent in the Tampa area as young as fifth grade, and The Stable remains a place for college quarterbacks to improve in the offseason.
“Our main job is to prepare them and put them in as many game-like situations, game-like drills,” C.J. Bennett said. “Whether it’s off-balance stuff, being on time, being comfortable in the pocket, uncomfortable scenarios, our goal is to make the drills and everything we do as game-like as possible.
“So when the bullets are flying on Saturdays and things are going crazy, (Penix) has the mechanics and that foundation to always look back on.”
While a youth league player, C.J. Bennett trained with John Kaleo — a Hall of Famer in the Arena Football League, founder of the Kaleo QB Academy and the Regional Combine Director for the NFL.
The Stable has seen quarterbacks such as Devlin Hodges of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Alex McGough of the Houston Texans come through the system.
The academy opened up in 2010 and used social media to attract young quarterbacks looking to improve their fundamentals. Chip Bennett started using #TheStable as Twitter became a more prominent outlet, and it would serve as a reminder of the talent the academy was building up.
“#TheStable is loaded. We’ve got this kid Mike Penix in the stable,” C.J. remembers his dad saying.
When Penix began working with the academy, it never took much effort to get him there. His motivation to improve was something that always stood out to C.J. Bennett and it doesn’t surprise him much when Penix returns to continue building in the offseason.
“It wasn’t like we were begging for him to come,” C.J. Bennett said. “He was there for every session, getting the extra work in.”
This offseason started sooner for Penix because the coronavirus pandemic sent most IU athletes back home for the foreseeable future. Chip Bennett tweeted a video of Penix doing drills on March 19, a week after Indiana announced the cancelation of all spring sports and activities for the remainder of the year.
“How do you get 20 straight completions in a #Big10 game vs Michigan State? By working pocket drills in #TheStable.”
While guidelines surrounding the pandemic and attempts to flatten the curve have made work tougher around the country, Penix and The Stable staff have been able to continue drills with fewer personnel.
“At the beginning of this, we were on the field. We were going basic quarterback drills, just continue to stay fresh on mechanics,” Penix said via teleconference Tuesday. “As they’re closing the fields down here, it’s just been a lot of fractional work. Making sure that we’re studying film and helping me just continue to focus and stay sharp on my game.”
Chip and C.J. Bennett both knew Penix was going to need to add strength to compete in the Big Ten.
“They protect you in practice with the green jersey and the red jersey, but he’s gonna take hits in the game — especially in the Big Ten,” C.J. Bennett said. “You’ve got to be prepared to take those hits.”
After Penix’s most recent injury, the work immediately started toward building weight and preparing for the 2020 season. With Peyton Ramsey transferring out, there’s no doubt who IU’s starter will be.
Penix has added about 20 pounds since the start of the 2019 season — something new strength coach Aaron Wellman will look to continue to improve remotely.
“(Wellman) gave us all workouts. He made them specific for whatever we had,” Penix said. “He sent out body workouts if we don’t have weights. He sent out dumbbell workouts. If you have a full gym, he sent us a full gym workout. He’s been talking to us and continuing to tell us that working out is going to keep us in shape.”
Penix’s work has shown in various aspects, whether that be through his ball flight or just by the eye test. Penix is stronger and making strides toward not just being Indiana’s top option at quarterback, but also the team’s most consistent option.
“Mike Penix has a rocket for an arm,” Indiana cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. “Mike is a great leader, he’s a great quarterback. He throws much stronger having gained 15, 20 pounds over the spring. So, Mike can do it all. I feel like he is going to take us far this season.”
C.J. Bennett praised the maturity of Penix, which has been apparent in his drive toward becoming a leader on his team.
Penix also puts pressure on himself to watch what he is eating while at home, to make sure he isn’t taking any steps back in his progress.
“My mom’s been cooking a lot for me,” he said. “My weight’s definitely been staying the same, if not going up a little bit. I’m certainly not losing any weight.
“That’s one thing that I have to continue to make sure I push on because that’s a big factor, and that’s something that I push myself on. I can’t just go out and come back not my weight. That would be letting my team down. and that’s something I’m not going to do.”