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For the first time in hours, the room around Takisha Penix was quiet and still. It was a direct contrast to the loud and hectic environment she just left.

Her son, Michael Penix Jr., had just been drafted to the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The entire family and many close friends were stationed in Florida, all watching the first night of the event together. As Penix' phone began to buzz, the group nervously hushed around him. When he hung up the phone, announcing he was going to Atlanta, the group erupted with tears, big smiles and even happier shouts.

Takisha sat right alongside her son through it all. However, the gravity of the moment and what it represented for the Penix family didn't fully hit her until she walked through the door of the hotel room she and her husband were staying in for the night.

The silence allowed her own thoughts to finally seep into her consciousness.

"Babe," she said softly and perhaps a little breathlessly, "we've got an NFL quarterback son."

Her husband, Michael Penix Sr., turned slowly. What began as a small chuckle grew in passion until a somewhat-bewildered but fully-rounded laugh now reverberated through the room as Takisha's smile only grew in return.

"We are NFL parents," she said. "Can you believe it?"

Sound has played a role in the story of Michael Penix Jr. whether he realizes it or not.

It's in the cheers of his family on draft night. It's in the roar of a crowd on college football's biggest stage. It's in the wince and shattered breathing of an injury. It's in the jolt of a moving truck's ignition coming to life. These sounds play a part in the journey endured for Michael Penix Jr. to become what he is today.

Penix's story, though, all began with one sound - one song - that relates to his story better than the rest.

🎼 Fighting on arrival | Fighting for survival

Music drifted through the delivery room of Takisha and Micheal Penix, soon-to-be Michael Penix Sr.

Takisha doesn't recall what specific song was playing overhead. She had other thoughts racing through her mind while labor pains shot through her body. She was well into the delivery of her first son, soon-to-be Michael Penix Jr.

Michael Penix Sr., though? He remembers every word to the song that cut on right when Michael Penix Jr. made his grand entrance into the word.

It was "Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Michael Penix Sr. was always a fan of Marley's smooth beats and passionate lyrics. The fact Takisha's family emigrated from Jamaica to England to – finally – America, only furthered the fandom. So, it wasn't a surprise this particular song came on in the delivery room. It later became a surprise how much that song, and the symbolism of it, would relate to the life of his son.

"The song just fit him," Michael Penix Sr. said. "It was playing, and I was like, 'Yeah, this is it. This is what we prayed for.'"

The song was a foundation, a starting point.

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In Michael Penix Jr.'s first year of life, all he knew was a football field. Takisha was going back to school to get another degree, which meant Michael Penix Sr. took Michael Penix Jr. to work with him. Work, as it turns out, was a football field since Michael Penix Sr. was a high school coach.

"I would get his little diaper bag, and I would take him to football practice with me," Michael Penix Sr. said. "The cheerleaders used to watch him while we practiced."

As Michael Penix Jr. grew, the family was excited to see him take his first steps.They all knew it would be soon, but one day, on that football field where his dad coached, the father in question was ready for some action from his son.

"He had never walked," Michael Penix Sr. said. "And I was like, 'Man, you're going to walk today.'"

With a tiny football helmet in his equally tiny hand, Michael Penix Jr. was hoisted up by his father and placed at the 1-yard line, just outside the end zone.

Setting him up just so, Michael Penix Sr. leapt into the end zone and turned, encouraging his son across the goal line. Mustering up as much coordination as his little body could, Michael Penix Jr. put one foot in front of the other.

"He took those first steps," Michael Penix Sr. said, "and he walked right into the end zone."

That's right: Michael Penix Jr.'s first steps resulted in a touchdown.

"He's been running around in the end zone since," Michael Penix Sr. said with a fond smile upon his face.

And from the very beginning…

"It seemed like he was born to love the game," Michael Penix Sr. said.

🎼 If you know your history | Then you would know where you coming from

The harsh reality of loving something is it doesn't always love you back.

For Michael Penix Jr. and football, there were days when the two didn't see eye-to-eye, even extremely early on in his career.

As Michael Penix Jr. himself wrote in a recent Players' Tribune article, adversity wasn't just a buzzword in Dade City, Florida, where he grew up, "it was in the water."

What's interesting, though, is if you talk to his family, his introduction to adversity is something incredibly different than what he'd experience later in life. As a teenager, he would get a scholarship offer rescinded when Tennessee made a coaching change. As a young man, he would sustain four season-ending injuries at Indiana. Those things? Those were moments of adversity. But they're not what those who know him best bring up first.

Instead, they tell a very different story, one that begins in Dade City.

The Penix home in Dade City had a huge backyard, the size of a football field, as Michael Penix Jr.'s middle brother, Mekhi, recalled. Before Mekhi came along, he joked the only throwing partner his older brother had was the family dog. So, when Mekhi was old enough, he'd catch Michael Penix Jr.'s passes. It was an idyllic upbringing for the young boys and, as far as their father remembers, Michael Penix Jr. specifically loved the outdoors, crying every time he couldn't go outside.

As Michael Penix Jr. continued to grow, the family realized he needed more than a backyard could afford his talents. Because yes, he had talent. A lot of it.

He had a huge arm. He was agile. He had a football IQ that needed nourishment. And he needed more opportunities.

There were no seven-on-seven passing leagues in Dade City or big-time football camps either. Really, no one other than his own father with his own coaching background could truly help Michael Penix Jr. stoke a dream into a blaze. Even then, there were other politics at play, with Michael Penix Jr. having to sit behind another coach's kid who wanted to play quarterback on their little league team.

Those talents and ambitions, though? They only grew as Michael Penix Jr. did.

"It's like, 'OK, what do we do with this?'" Takisha said. "As parents you start to wonder, 'OK. How do we give him the opportunities to be able to get to this place? To get to the NFL?'"

Well, you take him somewhere where opportunities flourish. You take him to Tampa, one of the most notorious hotbeds for football talent in the south.

"With recruiting, he never had the big name. He didn't have a household name," Takisha said. "He had the abilities, but no one knew him. I think if we would have never moved to Tampa, Florida, and he wouldn't have gone to school there, they probably still wouldn't know him. But there were different things that we had to do just to give him those opportunities to succeed."

So, the family moved, allowing Michael Penix Jr. to enroll at Tampa Bay Technical High School.

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Thinking back on the decision, Takisha said it was difficult for the family to leave Dade City. Though this has become a somewhat standard practice for families with gifted athletes, it was not really commonplace for people they knew at the time. Takisha said there were some who didn't understand the relocation, others were even upset by it.

"It really was picking up the whole family and saying, 'We have to move, and it's mainly for him,'" Takisha said. "Everyone had to leave their friends. It was a big sacrifice for everyone. But I feel like it was the right sacrifice that needed to be done for him to get the opportunity to be able to showcase his talents and follow his dreams."

And knowing what she knows now?

"It was well worth it," Takisha said. "I mean, even when he got his first offer, it was worth it."

But even when new opportunities came, so, too, did new heartbreak.

"He never had it easy," Michael Penix Sr. said. "He was always one of those kids who had to fight for everything."

🎼 Then you wouldn't have to ask me | Who the heck do you think I am

If you know the name Michael Penix Jr., you likely know his story already.

You probably know he landed at Indiana after a Tennessee scholarship offer fell through.

You probably know he only had the chance to play in 20 games total over four years with the Hoosiers because he sustained injury after injury, underwent surgery after surgery.

Too many people get bogged down with this part of Michael Penix Jr.'s story, and it's easy to see why.

Not Michael Penix Jr., though. Also, not his family.

"He knew he had it in him," Takisha said. "He knew what he could do. It was just that he had never been able to show it and let everybody see it. … That, and we knew. We know. We feel it, that he's a top quarterback."

So, Michael Penix Jr. went across the country to Washington to finish out his final years of eligibility with nothing more than a hope and some newly repaired joints and ligaments.

What transpired was everything the Penix family knew to be true about their son – and grandson.

"He had to prove it," said Yvonne Newton, his maternal grandmother, "over and over again."

Said Cheryl Penix, his paternal grandmother: "Oh yes, he always had to prove it."

Newton: "His actions always spoke louder."

Cheryl Penix: "And he was always the type to say, 'I'm going to show you who I am.'"

For two seasons at Washington? He did.

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Michael Penix Jr.'s collegiate career may have started with disappointment. It may have been sprinkled throughout with moments of despair. How it ended, though? With triumph.

Michael Penix Jr. was a Heisman trophy finalist, an All-American and the first player since Patrick Mahomes to throw for 4,500 yards in back-to-back seasons. There Michael Penix Jr. sat: at the top of the college football world.

"He didn't quit. I'm just so proud of him that he didn't quit," Takisha said. "He kept pushing through when times were hard. He truly never gave up."

And now?

"There's no stopping him," she said.

As Michael Penix Jr. ended the call that branded him a Falcon on the first night of the 2024 NFL Draft, the room around him filled with sound so loud the vibrations permeated.

"We shook Florida," Cheryl Penix said.

With the quaking lights overhead, the clapping hands all around and the shrieks of excitement echoing about, the sound of Michael Penix Jr. entering into the next chapter of his story called back to the song that started it 23 years ago.

The shouts of his family were those of triumph, for accomplishing something maybe no one – but them – thought possible.

For his brother looking on, there was a lesson intertwined in the sounds.

"Never stop fighting," Mekhi said, "for something you believe in."

Fighting on arrival. Fighting for survival.


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