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Play not selling Pennington short

by Dan Shrensky

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia receiver John Pennington readily admits he sells himself short. And light.

"Whenever they ask you to put your height and weight down, I don't usually round up like some people," Pennington said. "I kind of take off an inch or two so they underestimate me more -- every little edge I can get. I need every little intangible thing possible because I don't have the talent of a Chris Henry, Miquelle (Henderson) or Travis Garvin."

Indeed, Pennington, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound walk-on from Charleston, is the least naturally gifted of the Mountaineers' receiving corps, which includes big targets in Rayshawn Bolden at 6-4, 200 pounds and Henderson (6-2, 205), a flat-out burner like Garvin, and an all-around stud in Henry, also 6-4, 200, with speed to burn.

But Pennington proved last Saturday that he's not merely a feel-good story.

Through hard work and determination he has made himself a weapon.

Against hated rival Pitt, the former George Washington standout may have made the Mountaineers' catch of the year. On the next-to-last play of the first half, Pennington curled around linebacker Malcolm Postell in the end zone and made a diving grab of a 28-yard pass from Rasheed Marshall that tied the score at 24.

Artistic and impactful, WVU coach Rich Rodriguez singled Pennington's score out as the turning point in WVU's 52-31 win over the Panthers. Including Pennington's catch, the Mountaineers scored 35 unanswered points until a meaningless Pitt touchdown late in the game.

Pennington hadn't made a catch since the Sept. 13 Cincinnati game but had been performing well in practice. In his postgame comments, Rodriguez said Pennington usually has one great catch per practice.

The junior figured it was only a matter of time until that ability showed through in a game.

"I knew if I worked hard enough ... good things happen to you. I knew I could make a big play. I do it all the time in practice," Pennington said.

Pennington, who has five catches on the year, has seen his expectations escalate in his four years in the program. A walk-on invitee from the Don Nehlen era, he was happy just to make the team at first.

He played sparingly last year, but his only catch of the season was a double-milestone, a 33-yard touchdown from Danny Embick in the Mountaineers' season-opening rout of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

"I remember telling (receivers) coach (Steve) Bird that I can die a happy man after that," Pennington said.

And now that he's a bona fide touchdown-maker?

"If I keep making catches like this, I might as well stay alive for a while," he said.