This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The big kid has 17 scholarship offers from football programs around the country and the flow is just getting started. His coach says there's a good chance he'll become the most highly recruited prep player ever in the state of Utah. Already, Utah, BYU, Utah State, UCLA, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State are among the suitors and there will be more because …
Penei Sewell is only 15 years old.
The dimensions of his chronology don't exactly match his physical dimensions. He's 6-foot-5 and weighs 320 pounds. He has quick feet, strong hands and can play anywhere along the offensive line. He started at right tackle for St. George's Desert Hills High School last season as a 14-year-old sophomore. He's a big deal in a small town.
So, what's it like to have so much attention come at such a young age?
"It's a blessing," Penei says. "It's an honor."
Not a lot of immature bluster and boasting, huffing and puffing in this one.
Let's back up and get a running start at what's happening here.
Sewell was born in American Samoa to parents Gabe and Arlene, who moved their family to Utah five years ago. He's the fourth of five children, all of them great athletes anchored in the traditions of their mom and dad, traditions that include discipline, faith, perspective and gratitude.
The oldest of the Sewell children, Gabriella, who might have been the most gifted of the bunch, didn't play a lot of sports because of a brain tumor that was removed when she was 4 years old, a hurdle that affected her balance. "If that hadn't have happened, she would have run circles around my sons," says Gabe. Gabriella's doing well now, fresh off an LDS mission, preparing to go to college.
Next up, Gabe Jr. is a linebacker at Nevada who played cornerback, defensive tackle, linebacker, tailback, quarterback, receiver and long-snapper at Desert Hills. "And almost every other position on the field," says Thunder coach Carl Franke.
Nephi, a cornerback/running back who will be a high school senior this fall, will be featured in Franke's program. "He's electrifying," the coach says. "He'll touch the ball probably 25 times a game." He might have done the same last year were it not for a broken neck he suffered in the season's first game, against Jordan. He's recovered enough from that fractured vertebrae to be cleared by doctors to go again. And so he will, although Gabe says he and Arlene wouldn't have cared one iota if Nephi ever walked on a field again, as long as he was healthy.
After Penei is the family's youngest, Noah, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound, 13-year-old running back who has already been offered a scholarship by Hawaii. "We don't know what Noah's going to become yet, he's so young," says Franke, who is most displeased to see the end of the Sewell family line. "I beg Mom and Dad every day to have more kids."
Instead, he'll be favored to enjoy Penei's final two years and Noah's four years.
Currently, Penei is ranked by 247Sports as the top recruit in Utah from the 2018 class and 37th overall nationally. "By his senior year, he'll be in the top 10 in the country," Franke predicts. "He's just scratching the surface. I understand there is a lot of hype surrounding certain players. There is no hype here. He's the real deal. At 15, he already could be starting for some college programs."
Sewell moves well enough to be a pulling guard, but in spread offenses like some of those used in the Pac-12 he could play tackle. He'll have to get stronger in preparation for the next step, but applying himself in that regard doesn't appear to be much of a problem. While Gabe, who is a counselor at a youth treatment facility by profession and also an assistant coach at Desert Hills, doesn't push or pressure Penei or his other children, he does expect them to grow into responsible, conscientious workers.
"My wife is a driving force in all of this," he says. "She makes sure the academics are taken care of."
Gabe knows his son is … well, just kind of a knuckleheaded kid, even if huge football programs are sweet-talking him, beckoning him as though he were an adult.
"In many ways, [the recruiting] can seem overwhelming," he says. "Penei is even-keeled. He doesn't get too high or too low. I try to help maintain that. I want him to stay focused on school and his responsibilities at home. I want him to be a kid. I want him to enjoy being in high school and being a teenager. In all regards, he acts like a 15-year-old. That's what I want. I want him to focus on the journey, not the destination."
Still, those monster programs knock, and will go on knocking.
Penei says he'll likely wait until after his junior season to make any decisions about narrowing his list or settling on just one.
By then, he'll be all of 16. Gabe adds that the move is completely up to his son. The only hint Penei gives at this point is this:
"The question is: Is it important for me to be close to my family?"
He gives indications that it might be.
As Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC powers circle overhead, the schools in Utah certainly hope it is. They hope the ties that bind give them a shot at landing a man-child well on his way to becoming a man.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.