"I was going to play at Mesa Community College but they were having some funding issues with their football program so things didn't pan out," Pennel explained. "When I met with the Scottsdale coaches they told me everything I wanted to hear and how they could help me take care of my academics and play at a good Division I school."
The rest as they say is history.
As a freshman for the Artichokes Pennel registered 34 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and five sacks. Last season he tallied 37 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss and two sacks and earned All-American honors in 2011.
His performance didn't go unnoticed by BCS conference teams. Arkansas was the first one to offer, and schools such as Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Washington State and West Virginia followed suit.
Yet, his affinity to Arizona State always remained strong. His high school teammate, Matt Tucker, signed with the Sun Devils as part of the 2009 recruiting class, and to this day they remain close friends. In the next couple of years his fellow Coloradoan and friend Junior Onyeali and SCC teammate Josh Hubner joined the ranks of the maroon and gold as well.
In short, the defensive tackle had more than one reason to attract him to the Sun Devils.
Pennel was offered a scholarship under former head coach Dennis Erickson, and needless to say that this offer excited him more than most of the offers he was receiving from various suitors.
"I always wanted to play at Arizona State," Pennel stated. "I told Matt when we were in high school that I was going to go to Arizona State. Even after I visited Arkansas and Kansas State I still knew I wanted to go to Arizona State. "It's not that I'm going there just because I'm good friends with Matt, but also because I know it's a perfect situation for me. I know I have a chance to play immediately there.
"I just love the atmosphere of the city and the fans and I love the new coaching staff."
As much as Pennel yearned to be a Sun Devil, if a coaching staff change didn't take place in Tempe, there was a very good chance that Pennel would have never signed with ASU. The defensive tackle said that he was at a loss as to why the former Sun Devil coaching staff stopped pursuing him.
"I was talking a lot to (former defensive line) Coach Brown," Pennel noted, "and then he suddenly stopped calling me and I never figured out the reason why. I was trying to have a conversation with him to see why they stopped recruiting me and he wouldn't tell me."
With ASU effectively taking Pennel off of their recruiting board, they ultimately pushed the defensive tackle to pledge to Arkansas at the end of November. However, just a week later he rescinded that commitment when the Razorbacks' defensive coordinator, who was also Pennel's main contact on that staff, stepped down.
At that time he knew that a new coaching staff was going to be named in Tempe, and perhaps deep down Pennel was hoping that the new ASU regime would pursue him in earnest. Needless to say that the SCC star was happy that this scenario materialized.
"Things definitely picked up a lot more with the new ASU coaches," Pennel recalled. "They were contacting me more frequently. When I decommitted from Arkansas I knew I didn't want to move too far away to play in college, and I always wanted to play at Arizona State.
"With the new coaching staff, I know Coach Ball from when he was recruiting me very hard at Washington State. I'm very tight with Coach (Paul) Randolph. He's more than just a coach that respect you as a player. He respects you as a man. We can talk about defensive schemes and we talk about stuff that has nothing to do with football.
"We just hit off right away when he started recruiting me and that is another reason why I committed to ASU."
In a previous Devils Digest interview Randolph, ASU's defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, raved about Pennel's skills and how he can help the Sun Devil defense.
"This is what a defensive tackle should look like as far as being this wide and this big, because Mike Pennell blocks out the sun," Randolph said. "He's 6-5 300 plus plus pounds, but he possess some athleticism – I won't say like a cat, but maybe like a big cat. He's a big unit that can clog up the whole middle by himself but is athletic enough to pass rush. He's a rare athlete to have that kind of size, speed and agility. Great character and I'm tickled to death to have him come and play for Arizona State."
Pennel was regarded by Scout.com as one of the Top-13 junior college defensive tackles in the nation. Scout.com's Southwest Recruiting Analyst, Jason Jewell, also spoke in glowing terms of Pennel
"The first thing that stands out when you watch Pennel is his size," Jewell said. "He is one of the biggest players I have ever seen. There is not much but muscle on his frame. Pennel is active and disruptive. He gets off the ball for a kid his size. While he is strong against the run, rushing the passer is not his strong point, but don't think he isn't a force in the pass game. Pennel is able to collapse the pocket with his massive size, this allows for sacks from the defensive ends. He does take plays off from time to time but when he wants to be, Pennel is one of the best defensive tackles in the nation. He is very deserving of the offers he has and will be a force next year at the D1 level."
Pennel feels that his versatility and speed (reported a 40-time of 4.89) allows him to play any position on the defensive line, even though the consensus is that he's the quintessential nose tackle in a 3-4 front.
"I think I do a good job opening gaps for linebackers to come up and make plays," the defensive tackle said. "People always think that I'm going to be slow because of my size. But I work out very hard so I will be athletic and also have the conditioning to play every down. I weigh 350 lbs. but my weight isn't a disadvantage.
"I think a lot of people will be shocked when they see me play."
Pennel added that the ASU staff would like to see his weight hover around the 345-350 lbs. range.
"They just want me to play at the weight I'm most comfortable at," Pennel remarked. "I think I'll probably drop to 340 once I get out there and start working out with the team. But I've been doing a lot of running making sure that right now I don't get above 350."
These days Pennel is in waiting mode, anticipating his final semester grades to post later this month and subsequently receive his AA degree. Once that takes place, he will begin classes at ASU on June 18th.
In order to obtain his AA degree this month, the defensive tackle had to take 18 credit hours, certainly not an undemanding task but one which Pennel knew would yield the desired result.
"It was hard but I was very motivated," Pennel described. "It was hectic but it was just something I had to do. I guess when I look at it now it didn't seem too bad."
Another incentive throughout such a trying semester was undoubtedly watching his future team at work during spring practice, and realizing that he's not only landing at a destination he yearned for but also a program that has changed for the better.
"I know these coaches are working on the team to be more disciplined and having them play better," Pennel explained. "They want their defense to be more aggressive and more intense and hopefully I can bring that to them.
"Watching them in spring practice I like how they are practicing faster, running on and off the field all the time, and their discipline will bring the team together. I know it can be tough for players getting used to all these new rules, but everyone has a good mindset. I feel like the offense is going to be more explosive and the defense is going to play more under control and make less mistakes than they did last year."
Whether it's coaches, his teammates or the common ASU fan, suffice to say that they all have Mike Pennel pegged as one of the more highly anticipated members of the 2012 class and a player that is certainly expected to hit the ground running and make his presence known starting in week one of the upcoming season.
"I embrace the expectations because I put more pressure on myself than anyone else out there," Pennel said. "I want to be an impact player. I want to come in and win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. All the pressure and expectations, that just motivates me."
Scottsdale Community College
Date of Birth
Favorite TV Show
"Chicken Pesto Pasta"
Favorite Pro Team
Person you most admire
"My mother. She works so hard and does everything she can to support me and my sister. That is the person I look up to the most."
First Football Memory
"First time I played football I was five years old. I was always a big kid and then I was playing with nine-year old kids. We had some ugly uniforms and that was the only year I ever played offensive line."
One Thing most people don't know about me
"One thing that people really wouldn't know, because I don't really publicize it, is that I'm a cancer survivor. I had Wilms Tumor cancer when I was three years old and I went through 18 months of chemotherapy."
Why did you choose ASU?
"Coach Graham has challenged me to be the best football player I can possibly be. That's what I need to do to take my game to the next level."
Where do you want to be in ten years?
"Hopefully be towards the end of a big NFL contract, but if that doesn't work out I would like to own a party planning or recording company."