There are more good days than bad days for Michael Penix Jr. right now. But those bad ones — the days when he’s stiff or sore, or just doesn’t feel very good at all — are still there.
By now, Penix knows to expect that from the ACL rehabilitation process.
“This is something I do not wish on anybody,” he said Monday.
It’s been more than two months since the Indiana quarterback underwent surgery to repair an ACL tear in his right knee, the same one he tore in 2018. And while he’s still working his way through the various checkpoints that dot the comeback trail, Penix is encouraged by what he’s been told.
The process is a drag, but Penix is making the most of it.
“I am on schedule, if not a little bit ahead of schedule,” Penix said. “I have been working extremely hard to get back. I am doing everything I can to go out and just continue to help motivate the team, be a leader, even though I cannot do certain activities. But I have been doing really well, progressing every week, and I feel myself getting a lot stronger and feeling more comfortable with my body.”
When he injured his knee on Nov. 28 against Maryland, Penix saw his season end prematurely for the third time in as many years in college — two ACL tears sandwiched around a shoulder injury in 2019. While news of his progress is certainly encouraging, that Penix has yet to finish a season healthy — whether through bad luck or otherwise — is a concern moving forward.
But right now, IU strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman sees in Penix a player who is focused on getting his body back to game shape in preparation for a year that will be crucial for both Indiana’s program, and himself.
“Mike has done a fantastic job of really just locking in to the daily disciplines associated with coming back from that, because we know there are some good days and some bad days,” Wellman said. “So just pushing through those bad days and celebrating those small wins on his road to recovery.”
At the end of that road is a 2021 season that — if all goes well and Penix is the best version of himself — could see the IU quarterback enter the Heisman Trophy conversation. The tools are there, as Penix has demonstrated at times over his first three seasons, and he’s already on the very short list of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks. His consistency and his health are the questions the Tampa native must answer.
In the meantime, there will be a careful, deliberate build toward Indiana’s season opener on Sept. 4 at Iowa. Penix isn’t running yet, nor is he doing any sort of football activities. At this point, Penix is simply trying to do what he can to avoid any setbacks. That includes taking careful steps on the icy, slushy walkways around the Bloomington campus.
It’s a long road and, at times, a difficult one to navigate. But by now, Penix knows the markers of progress, and he likes where he stands.
“I know, for sure, I’ll be ready come game day,” Penix said.