Chris Penner is halfway through his football career at Capital High School. He paused to consider that earlier this week, during a break in the action at practice.
“I want to make the most of it,” he said. “We only get two more years of high school, then who knows if we’ll play again?”
He jumped back in, lining up near junior quarterback Grant Erickson, for a short scrimmage period. Play after play, Erickson tossed Penner the ball.
And each time, Penner caught it — sometimes in traffic, sometimes with nothing but Capital’s new turf field in front of him after flying by a defender.
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“He makes the amazing plays look routine,” Erickson said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. You’re like, ‘Did he really just do that?’ It seems like that happens every practice, every game.”
Penner, a junior wide receiver, started dazzling teammates, coaches and fans on the football field as a sophomore. He led the lower South Sound in receiving (43 catches, 734 yards, seven touchdowns) in 2016, and was the youngest player on The Olympian’s All-Area football team.
He was a first-team Class 3A South Sound Conference selection, received votes in the Associated Press’ all-state balloting and put his name in Capital’s record books.
“He’s just a competitor,” Capital coach Darren Tinnerstet said. “He has that nature about him that he wants to win and compete.”
Penner tied a program record for touchdown receptions in a half last season, with four against Gig Harbor. And he broke another record in that game, recording 192 yards on seven catches.
But he was, and will continue to be, an impact player for the Cougars in all phases of the game. He’s also plays cornerback for the Cougars, kicks and punts. Last season, he scored 80 — or, more than 30 percent — of Capital’s 259 points.
“He’s a special player,” Tinnerstet said.
Tinnerstet hasn’t been the only one to notice. Two years into high school, Penner is already regarded by many as one of Capital’s elite athletes. Last winter, he was Capital’s leading scorer in basketball, averaging 18.9 points per game.
Penner was the only sophomore named to the 3A SSC first team and was an Olympian All-Area second-team selection. He helped the Cougars to their first state-playoff appearance since 2009 and broke program records for 3-pointers (63) and free throws (136) made in a season.
“He’s on track to break a few more records in his career,” Capital basketball coach Brian Vandiver said.
But Penner has a hard time placing just what makes him such a great athlete. Many years of work he supposes, and having good teammates at his side. Genetics maybe?
Both of Penner’s parents played soccer at the University of Washington. His uncle, Chris Juergens – a former Olympia High School star – set true freshman records as a wide receiver for the Huskies in receiving yards (414) and touchdown catches (five) in 1998.
“That’s a very athletic family. ... His uncle was obviously a very good receiver to play as a freshman for a really good UW team,” Tinnerstet said. “It’s definitely worn off on (Chris).”
Penner, who is also carries a 4.0 GPA, has a long history of athletic prowess. Erickson has known him since they started playing soccer together at 4 years old.
“I’ve seen him do amazing things,” Erickson said. “He’ll have 30 points (in a basketball game), then he’ll come out here and score four touchdowns. He’s such a great competitor at everything.”
Erickson figures Penner could walk onto a golf course and pick the game up quickly.
“I’m sure if you threw him on the baseball field, he’d figure out a way to hit a double in the gap and steal third — he’s just that type of player,” Tinnerstet said.
Penner has narrowed his athletic focus to football and basketball, and coaches believe he has college potential in either sport, but he’s still deciding which to pursue.
“I want to make a decision like right now, so I can focus on that and get farther, but I can’t,” he said.
Tinnerstet and Vandiver agree, though, playing multiple sports in high school has its benefits. Tinnerstet says the skills Penner uses in basketball have helped him on the football field. And, now that Penner is a junior, colleges are starting to show interest in the two-sport star.
“He’s starting to get on their radar,” Tinnerstet said.