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Poised to graduate, tested for grit, Rashaad Penny is exactly who Seahawks told us they wanted

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Stepping out of the shadow of a historic predecessor, overcoming the death of a grandparent and getting poked in the eye on the field, Penny still put up eye-popping performances on his way to his first round status

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Apart from all the concerns about positional value, projected stock, or even how his specific talents as a player fit within the Seattle Seahawks offense, Rashaad Penny exemplifies exactly who John Schneider announced the Seahawks were targeting heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Monday when Schneider spoke about the organization’s approach, he described a narrowed “cleaned up” focus: “You have to have certain criteria to be on our board.” Good character doesn’t mean everything on the football field, and it’s an emphasis Seattle has made a cornerstone for the most part of Schneider’s and Pete Carroll’s tenure, but it’s clear they elevated the priority in selecting Penny.

In between appearances at the NFL Scouting Combine, his pro day and private visits with prospective teams, for example, the 22 year old Penny has been balancing finishing his remaining 12 units of classes to finish his communications and interdisciplinary studies degrees at San Diego State in time to graduate with his fellow seniors next month.

Scholastic dedication isn’t the only signal of Penny’s grittiness. Paramount to Carroll’s philosophy is the belief that competition brings not only resilience but transcendence, and Penny developed himself as a premier college talent mostly as a special teamer and depth player behind another blockbuster tailback: D.J. Pumphrey, taken last year in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles, broke the all-time NCAA rushing yards record before he was finished with the Aztecs. But Penny pushed Pumphrey for playing time, contributing 1,000 yards of his own as a junior, and already in spring 2017 was considered the better professional prospect than Pumphrey by some scouts if he chose to enter the draft a year early. Instead Penny went back to school, not just to boost his profile as the featured back but because his mother encouraged him to finish that degree.

Having already overcome bouts of homesickness as a freshman that saw him calling his mom and sister daily, they said according to this San Diego Union-Tribune profile, begging to come back home when he struggled in practice and because he felt buried behind Pumphrey and another former SDSU back Chase Price (Penny had just two carries in his true freshman season), Penny then endured even more hardship this past year. In November, Penny’s grandfather died. Hours later he produced 429 all purpose yards and four touchdowns in a win over Nevada. Penny also overcame a bizarre eye-gouging incident, in which a player from Northern Illinois poked and grabbed inside his facemask leaving Penny with a swollen eye he had to protect with a visor the following week.

Penny’s response could have been stripped right from a Pete Carroll motivational tape: “It’s really no grudges I have against anybody. I get up and smile after everything. Honestly, I think it made us better.”

Perspective, perseverance, purpose. No matter how you feel about Penny’s placement in the draft for Seattle, the statement the Seahawks made with their first pick on Thursday couldn’t have been any clearer or more consistent with their message. Hopefully, it also helps make them better.