Pennington makes tough decision

With the clear opportunity next season for significant playing time in football, Spencer Pennington's recent announcement that he was giving up baseball was not really a surprise. <br><br>But that doesn't mean his decision came easily.

"It was definitely a tough decision," Pennington told earlier this week. "I've been playing baseball since I was four years old."

As a high school senior, Pennington batted .476 (50-for-105) with 10 home runs and 55 RBI. That season he was tops among the state's Class 4A players in average, home runs and RBI. In recognition of that effort, he was named Class 4A First-Team All-State by the Birmingham News and the Alabama Sports Writer's Association. As a junior, he batted .430 with 15 home runs and 57 RBI. Pennington hit 11 home runs as a sophomore.

Spencer Pennington recently quit the Tide baseball team to concentrate full time on football.

His senior year of high school Pennington also led his high school team to the 4A football state championship, throwing for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns. "I've been really blessed and fortunate to be able to play more than one sport," he acknowledged. "I was given some athletic ability, but I try to work hard every day to get better."

Pennington was a star in both sports, but as a high school senior there was a lot of talk that his long-term potential lay on the diamond rather than the gridiron. However, when a big-money baseball contract wasn't forthcoming, he signed a football grant with the Tide, intending to play both sports.

He redshirted his first season in football, but on the baseball diamond Pennington competed for the Tide as a true freshman, appearing in 25 games and starting 13. For the season he hit only .180 with one homerun and four RBI. Before he quit the team this season, Pennington had three hits in 15 at bats, totaling two RBI.

"Playing baseball at The University of Alabama was a great experience," Pennington said. "But I knew when I signed here that there was going to come a time when I had to pick one."

Both head coaches wanted him full time. Earlier in the season Jim Wells commented that Pennington would likely be a starter if he played baseball year round, while for his part Mike Price made it clear that he preferred that his quarterbacks focus exclusively on football.

"(The coaches) never really put any pressure on me," Pennington said. "It was really my decision and my decision only. I prayed about it and talked it over with my parents. It felt like the Good Lord was leading me to play football."

Brodie Croyle (left) and Pennington watch during spring practice. The two quarterbacks are putting in extra time every day watching film of Bama's new offense.

"You know, I signed a football scholarship," was how Pennington explained his decision. "Ever since I was a little boy it's been my dream to play quarterback here. Brodie (Croyle) and I are going to push each other this year. That's why I made the decision."

With a brand new offense emphasizing the forward pass, it's no wonder that Pennington and Croyle are spending every spare moment preparing for next season.

Pennington explained, "The football team is starting summer workouts already. We're fixing to get in the film room and start learning some new plays for this new offense."

As last year's backup, Croyle finished spring ahead of Pennington on the depth chart. But the rigors of SEC football virtually guarantee that Alabama will need more than one quarterback before the season is finished.

And Pennington is determined to be ready.

"I've got a real good chance to play this year," he said. "It's right there within my grasp. All I've got to do is do the work to get there and achieve it."

Right now at least, football is a virtual full-time job. "We work out every day," Pennington related. "We run every day. You have meetings with the coaches. And Brodie and I watch film by ourselves. Not just working out, but it's a full time job. All day and every day."

His A-Day scrimmage was tough, but overall Pennington enjoyed a very good spring practice, establishing him as a solid No. 2 at quarterback.

Obviously Pennington's sophomore baseball season is finished, and at this point he's tentatively planning to sit out next baseball season as well, taking a redshirt. But that would still leave two years of college baseball eligibility left, if he chose to use them.

"I'm not going to close the door on anything," Pennington said. "Coach Wells left the door open. The ball is in my court. Anytime I'd like to play baseball again, that option will always be open."

Already a dual-sport competitor on the collegiate level, does the 6-4, 223-pound athlete have any plans to possibly move on to other sports challenges? Swimming, perhaps? Basketball?

Or how about following the lead of former gymnastics star Andree' Pickens and taking up track and field?

"No, no pole vaulting," Pennington said with a laugh. "I'm going to concentrate fully on football for this next year and see how that goes."

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