Penny brothers carry rich genes
Cardinals running back Elijhaa Penny shared a video on his Twitter account last month of a foot-race against his younger brother, Rashaad.
In the four-second clip, a group gathers as the Pennys streak down an asphalt street, with Rashaad eventually pulling away to claim victory.
The recording ended when the race did, which means it missed the real fun: the ensuing debate about whom, exactly, deserves credit for the teeming athleticism of the Penny brothers.
“We all sit around and jibber jabber,” Robert Penny, father of Elijhaa and Rashaad, said with a laugh.
“Every family function we have, we get these uncles that are like, ‘You get it from us,’” Elijhaa said. “Then you got this uncle who is like, ‘You get it from me.’ Then we get an older cousin from Alabama or something who is like, ‘Y’all look like me on the field.’ We just kind of take credit for ourselves. We played football in the streets when we were little -- sideline pop against the cars -- so that’s what we’ll go with. We made each other better.”
Why such a rush for recognition? In a couple months, the Penny clan will be the ultra-rare family which boasts not one but two brothers in the NFL.
Elijhaa is entering his third season with the Cardinals after surviving the cut as a tryout player out of Idaho in 2016. Rashaad is at the NFL Scouting combine this week, fresh off a dynamic senior season at San Diego State. He is projected to be among the first handful of running backs chosen in April’s draft.
There are four Penny brothers in all, not an athletic slouch among them. Oldest brother Robert played collegiately at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. Elijhaa is the second oldest, followed by Rashaad. Youngest brother Brionne is a star high school quarterback in the Los Angeles area.
“I think (Brionne) is going to be the best out of the family,” Rashaad said. “He’s a big kid.”
Robert, Sr. was a three-sport athlete growing up, and while he downplayed his athletic exploits, Elijhaa said his father was a neighborhood star.
“Everybody said he was like Magic Johnson in basketball,” Elijhaa said. “He was a big point guard. He had good feet for a big dude. That sounds a lot like me.”
Robert had Robert, Jr. at the age of 18, which meant “sports were over with.” But as his five children – Robert and Desiree also have a daughter, Breonna – grew up, Robert encouraged them to follow their interests.
“I’d be at the park all day with them,” Robert said. “It was fun and they were passionate. The way I looked at it, I wanted them to see it all the way through.”
The Penny boys’ first love was baseball, and everyone assumed that would be the athletic path. Robert, Elijhaa and Rashaad didn’t begin playing organized football until high school, but all became stars and stuck with it. As Elijhaa broke through to the NFL, Rashaad began making a name for himself at San Diego State.
After playing sparingly his first two seasons, Rashaad broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2016 despite being second string to current Eagles running back Donnel Pumphrey. This past season, Rashaad racked up 2,248 yards rushing at a 7.8-yards-per-carry-clip with 23 touchdowns. He added two kickoff returns for touchdowns and a punt return score.
While Rashaad’s genetics undoubtedly helped him get to this point, so, too, did the presence of three talented brothers.
“It definitely made me a better competitor,” Rashaad said. “Even my youngest brother, he’s always trying to beat us in a lot of things. Our whole family, it’s just a big competition. Even growing up, we each liked one individual NFL team so we weren’t stuck (agreeing) on one. That’s how we’ve been our whole lives.”
Robert, Sr. saw his sons tear up the neighborhood in their youth, but truly grasped the gravity of their ascension the past two years while watching Elijhaa at University of Phoenix Stadium and Rashaad starring with the Aztecs.
“I couldn’t have foreseen something like this,” Robert said. “It’s like a script.”
Brionne will be off to college soon, bringing to an end the famed Penny exploits at the local level. But then it will be the brothers’ turn to bask in the accomplishments of those from Norwalk who follow in their football footsteps.
“(Football) has changed not just our lives, but our little cousins, our neighbors,” Elijhaa said. “Everybody in the community back home in Los Angeles, we’ve created a culture where everybody wants to play football. That’s great to see.”
You can almost hear them now, arguing about who deserves the credit.