Penny’s knack for TDs has Norwalk on brink of title

LONG BEACH, Calif. — To his head coach, he’s simply, Mr. Touchdown.

If you rush for 49 scores in 13 games, you’re entitled to that sort of praise and Norwalk head coach Jesse Ceniceros expresses his freely.

That’s the type of year it’s been for Norwalk senior running back Rashaad Penny. It’s been a year for the ages and thanks to his efforts, the Lancers are in the CIF finals for the first time since 1977. Before advancing to the finals, however, the Suburban League champs captured their first league title in 23 years.

It’s been a magical ride for Norwalk (13-0) and Penny has done most of the driving.

“2,300 yards,” he said. “That is a lot.”

It’s actually 2,380, but who’s counting?

Perhaps Norwalk opponents, all of which would all prefer it be someone else carrying the ball instead of Penny.

The evolution into one of the best backs in school history didn’t come without some bumps. Penny didn’t always make toting the rock look so comfortable. In fact, holding on to the ball was an issue for him early in his career.

Penny is the third sibling to come through Norwalk High School. He was preceded by older brothers Robert, who’s final season in the program was 2007 and Elijhaa, who last played for the Lancers in 2010.

Elijhaa didn’t make the transition for his younger brother so easy. He rushed for 2,200 yards in 2010. Penny was next in line and had some nervous thoughts.

“At the beginning my sophomore year I thought it was really scary,” Penny said. “I was pretty nervous.

“There was time where I thought that I would fumble the ball. That’s fearful. I really hate fumbling and my sophomore year I really did that a lot.”

As Penny struggled holding onto the ball, his team struggled as well winning just three games during his sophomore season as the tailback tried to figure out a way to fill the enormous shoes left behind by big brother.

“At first a lot of people said I couldn’t do it,” Penny said. “He rushed for 2,200 so it was pretty hard stepping in so I told him I’ll take the challenge and it was a big challenge taken and I took it.”

Now as a senior, he’s proven he can fill those shoes and more surpassing his brother’s rushing total and he knows how he got there.

“He had a good O-Line,” Penny said. “I got a great O-Line.”

Perhaps the most humble 2,000-yard rusher this side of Barry Sanders, Penny understands the guys up front are going to provide him with running lanes. All he has to do is his part. He’s done it and done it well.

As he enters the Southeast Division championship against La Serna (11-2) on Saturday at 7 p.m. – a game that will be shown on Prep Zone – Penny is just one touchdown shy of 100 for his career.

“I overcame (the fumbles) my junior and senior year,” Penny said. “I just stopped putting the ball on the ground and instead in the end zone.”

He’s Mr. Touchdown.