What We Can Learn From Michael Penix Jr. and J.J. McCarthy
What We Can Learn From Michael Penix Jr. and J.J. McCarthy. Right now, they are at the pinnacle of their young lives, about to play in the biggest game of their careers. But they aren’t that different from your kid.
Challenges like injuries, loss of playing time, or a negative experience with a coach can seem like huge walls to climb for our kids and for us. However, this is what shapes young athletes and allows them to meet these big moments. It’s called resilience. They have been through hard stuff and know they can come out the other side even stronger.
Adversity as Youth Athletes
Both Penix and McCarthy are great examples, as they faced their fair share of challenges on their way to playing in the National Championship Game on Monday.
For Michael Penix Jr., it was a knee injury in high school that threatened to derail his football career. He tore his ACL and MCL during his junior year, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. But rather than letting this setback define him, Penix used it as motivation. As he stated in an interview with The Indianapolis Star, “Being able to bounce back from that injury showed me what I’m capable of.”
On the other hand, J.J. McCarthy faced adversity when he decided to transfer schools his senior year. Moving from his home in Illinois to attend IMG Academy in Florida was a significant shift and a test of his resilience. Adjusting to a new environment, new coaches, and a new team while maintaining his performance on the field was no small task. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, McCarthy recalls, “It was tough, but it made me stronger. I had to prove myself all over again and earn the respect of my new teammates and coaches. It was a challenge I welcomed.” He went on to earn the prestigious Gatorade National Player of the Year award.
Penix and McCarthy continued to find both success and challenges at the collegiate level. Penix redshirted his first year at Indiana University, hoping to fully recover from his knee injury. Unfortunately, knee and shoulder injuries plagued him all four years at IU. And in 2020, he once again tore his ACL. However, Penix’s relentless spirit and commitment to rehabilitation allowed him to return to the field stronger each time, earning him admiration from fans and fellow players alike.
After four years, Penix transferred to the University of Washington. While some saw this as a risky move, it turned out to be a pivotal turning point in his career.
At Washington, Penix has solidified his reputation as a dominant quarterback, and now he has the No. 2 Huskies (14-0) one win away from its first national championship since 1991.
His father, Michael Penix Sr., proudly declared in an interview with The Seattle Times, “He’s a fighter, and he’s proven that time and time again. These statistics are just the result of his hard work and determination.”
At Michigan, McCarthy also faced a new set of challenges. Despite his impressive performance on the field, he faced a personal battle off of it. He was diagnosed with depression after his senior year of high school. This was a painful, unseen struggle that he had to contend with alongside the pressures of proving himself as a young quarterback in a top football program. As his mother, Jessica McCarthy, shared with The Detroit News, “J.J. has always been a fighter. He faced this new challenge with the same strength and courage he showed on the field. We couldn’t be more proud of him.” Today, McCarthy uses his experience to raise awareness about mental health issues among young athletes, reminding them that it’s okay to seek help when they need it.
McCarthy discovered meditation to help him and to stay grounded. You can typically find him under a goalpost during every pre-game meditating with his headphones on. McCarthy credits meditation with helping him remain calm in high-pressure situations and maintaining a positive mindset. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, McCarthy said, “Meditation helps me stay focused on the present and not dwell on past failures or future uncertainties. It became a vital part of my daily routine, as important as practicing on the field.”
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
While Penix Jr. and McCarthy may have faced different challenges, their stories are similar. No athlete, no matter how good they are or to what level they achieve, gets there without facing adversity. And now, these two athletes share something else, one common goal – leading their team to victory in the National Championship game on Monday.