DADE CITY — For one chilly, overcast morning, red and black — longtime primary colors of Dade City’s sports teams — were preempted by purple.
Hue of the Washington Huskies, royalty and for the last two years, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who on Saturday received a king’s adoration from the east Pasco community that spawned him.
“He’s a hometown hero,” Mayor Jimmy Shive said.
Only five days after his surreal final college season ended with a loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoff national title game, Penix sat atop a maroon Mustang convertible acknowledging old friends, loved ones and random admirers as grand marshal of Dade City’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade along the town’s main thoroughfare.
Observers wore Penix’s No. 9 Huskies jersey or purple T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “Big Penix Energy.” Near the parade route’s end, at the corner of Meridian Avenue and Seventh Street, a group of grade-schoolers held up a poster stating, “Pasco is Proud of Penix.”
“This is the city that loves me and the city that I came from,” said the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who was raised in the town and attended Pasco High as a freshman and sophomore. “This is where it all started, so I’ll never forget where I came from, and I definitely just want to show my support and just show the city that I’m one of them and I will be for the rest of my life.”
The parade was only a portion of the morning-long mutual gesture of affection between community and favorite son, still widely known in Dade City as “Little Mike.”
After a series of unity prayers from community clergy on the front steps of the Pasco County Historic Courthouse, Penix received a formal proclamation from Shive before an audience of roughly 350, then spent nearly an hour signing autographs and posing for selfies.
“Little Mike, you have brought glory to Dade City,” Shive said.
Penix, whose dad (of the same name) was a Pasco High 1,200-yard rusher and all-state defensive back in the early 1990s, arrived in town Friday and was set to fly back Sunday to the West Coast, where he’ll begin training for the NFL scouting combine.
Due to an extensive injury history (including two torn knee ligaments while playing at Indiana from 2018-2021), many mock drafts currently don’t peg him as a first-round pick, though he put together two prosperous seasons at Washington. Arguably the country’s best downfield thrower, he finished with a nation-best 4,903 passing yards and ranked third in touchdown passes (36) in 2023.
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The Huskies finished 25-3 during his two seasons as starter, winning the Pac-12 title this past year.
“Man, I feel like (the injury issue) is past me now, that’s why I wanted to come another year and play one more year,” Penix said. “I just had two years of being healthy, so I’m just going to show the world that I’m healthy, and whenever I’m healthy I can do it all.”
On Saturday, he did do it all, for his community. From hugs to handshakes, signatures to selfies.
“It’s not overwhelming, it’s a blessing to be able to have a city support me and be behind me through all my dreams and my aspirations,” he said. “So I’m super blessed.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls