Michael Penix Jr. injury history: How Washington QB overcame four consecutive season-ending injuries

Indiana has mustered only two winning seasons in the last 16 years, and those two years had something in common: They were the only two seasons in which Michael Penix Jr. appeared in a majority of games for the Hoosiers.

Before Penix found stardom at Washington, he helped lead a flailing Indiana program back to relevance in the Big Ten and gave Hoosiers fans something to believe in. Indiana won a combined 14 games in 2019 and 2020 but has just nine wins in the three seasons since. 

The end of Penix’s time in Bloomington wasn’t as simple as a quarterback moving on to bigger and better things, however. Injuries ravaged his stint with the Hoosiers, ending all four of his seasons prematurely.

Penix got a fresh start under Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, who was his offensive coordinator when Indiana won eight games in 2019, and Penix has been able to push the slew of unfortunate injuries out of mind to become a legitimate NFL prospect.

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Here’s a closer look at Penix’s injury history before he landed with DeBoer at Washington.

Michael Penix Jr. injury history

— 2018: Penix appeared in three games as a true freshman in 2018 before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in October. He didn’t make a start and threw only 34 passes, but Penix was splitting time with Peyton Ramsey in a competitive game against Penn State when he went down. Because the injury happened early enough in the season, however, Penix was able to set his sights on a full recovery ahead of the 2019 season.

— 2019: Penix, a lefthander, dislocated the SC joint in his non-throwing shoulder in November 2019, ending his season prematurely. He had made a pretty remarkable comeback, earning the Hoosiers’ starting job as a redshirt freshman despite spending most of the offseason recovering from the torn ACL.

Indiana was 7-2 when Penix went down in a win over Northwestern, already the program’s highest win total since 2007. Penix already had missed time earlier in the season, sitting out a 41-point loss to Ohio State, but the Hoosiers would struggle the rest of the way with losses to Penn State and Michigan plus a Gator Bowl loss to Tennessee.

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— 2020: The COVID-shortened season, which nearly didn’t happen at all for Big Ten schools, was a bit of a dream season for Indiana. With Penix at the helm, the Hoosiers were ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP poll and earned wins over both Penn State and Michigan. Penix threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Wolverines, and he gave Ohio State a scare by throwing for 491 yards and five touchdowns in a loss.

While Penix was arguably a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate with 14 touchdown passes through five games, his season ended abruptly when he re-tore his ACL against Maryland. Indiana played only two more games, but Penix missed an opportunity to play in the Outback Bowl against Ole Miss as he recovered.

— 2021: By the time 2021 rolled around, injuries were starting to take a toll on Penix’s mind. He told the Pac-12 Network earlier this year that he dealt with mental health struggles as a result.

“There were times when I’d wake up the day of the game and I’d wait until my roommate leaves, and I’d just lie on the floor, and I’d just cry to God, just praying that he’d protect me that day because I knew where my head was at at the time, and it wasn’t truly fresh,” Penix said, adding that there were “a lot of tears.”

That makes it even more remarkable that Penix was able to not only continue his career after 2021, but also reach new heights. His 2021 season ended after only five games, with Penix suffering a dislocated joint in his throwing shoulder. At that point, Penix had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a season that would see Indiana finish winless in Big Ten play. 

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The desire to play never disappeared for Penix, who revealed earlier this year that he wasn’t medically cleared from his second ACL tear before playing against Iowa in 2021. Penix said the doctor who performed his surgery said he couldn’t formally clear him just yet but said he couldn’t stop him from playing. Penix played, and while he suffered the shoulder injury the following month, his leg held up as well as he could have hoped.

In two years at Washington, Penix has made every start and morphed into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. After an undefeated regular season with 35 total touchdowns and nearly 4,000 passing yards, Penix has his sights set on a College Football Playoff berth and a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

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