GV’s Pena looks to stay healthy, contribute this fall
The past two years, Grand Valley junior running back and linebacker Jonathan Pena has been a team leader on and off the field. On the field, he’s a tough player to deal with for opposing offenses and defenses due to his small stature, speed and high football IQ. But what has left him wanting more the past few years — despite rushing for 627 yards and five touchdowns offensively and adding 39 tackles and half a sack in two years — is his struggles to stay healthy for his teammates and coaches.
That’s not a knock on Pena, who plays a violent style of football. You get banged up in football, and over the past two years it’s happened to Pena more than most, not that he’s complaining.
Staying on the field consistently is a goal of Pena’s this fall, considering the Cardinals are shaping up to be the best version of themselves that they’ve been in quite a few years.
“Cramps is one of the biggest nagging injuries for me,” Pena said. “I find myself on the sideline a lot due to cramps throughout the season, so I’ve been eating more bananas, drinking pickle juice and taking potassium tablets. I’ve yet to have cramps since I’ve started doing those things, so hopefully it stays that way, but during the offseason, I wrestled and went into lifting. I’m hoping to be more compact and able to take some blows better.”
If Pena can stay on the field consistently this fall, the Cardinals’ offense under third-year head coach Tim Lenard gets that much harder to stop, considering Pena forms a terrific duo in the backfield with fellow junior Levi Nolan, to go along with standout quarterback Jeff Holbrook and a good set of receivers led by senior Laytham Magana and juniors Jayden Wood and Jason Schubert.
With as much firepower as the Cardinals have on offense, Pena is hoping for a big year.
“My personal goal this season is to rush for at least a thousand yards,” Pena said during a camp practice in late August. “I’ve never done that in my high school career [his most is 512 yards last season], so that’s my goal. But I want to do it within the scheme of our offense. We have so much talent all over the field, so I want to be able to take advantage of the opportunities I get when the ball is in my hands to help this team win as many games as possible. Outside of the thousand yards, I really want to make the all-conference list. I really thought I was going to get it last season, but unfortunately I didn’t, so I just have to keep working harder and staying humble. That’s what I’ve been doing; I’ve only got two years left.”
When not on the football field, Pena is one of the top wrestlers at Grand Valley, which has led directly to his success as a linebacker in the Cardinals’ defensive scheme. In wrestling, the goal is to get the other guy down on the mat for points before trying to pin him, so having a background in trying to bring someone to the ground plays right into Pena’s favor defensively.
“It’s pretty much a takedown when you’re trying to tackle the runner,” Pena said. “That just comes naturally to me, the double-leg takedowns. Plus, in football you’re sort of down in a wrestling stance at linebacker at the start of the play, so I’m already in a position I’m used to.”
Away from football, Pena hits his school books just as hard as he hits opponents every Friday night. At Grand Valley High School, Pena is on the leadership council and is a member of the honor roll for the Cardinals. Upon graduation, Pena — who’s favorite school subjects are biology and chemistry — hopes to be an anesthesiologist or radiologist. While the junior holds out hope that he can catch on with a football program in college, he’s already well ahead of the game for a student-athlete, having a fall-back plan should football fall through.
“If an offer comes, that’s great,” Pena said. “But I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to get to the next level, because I love the game too much and just want to enjoy each and every day with my teammates. I know that I’m giving my all for my brothers on this team and doing the best I can, leaving it all on the field.”
Two games into the 2017 season, Pena has helped lead the Cardinals to a 1-1 start.
In two games, Pena has rushed for 78 yards, while adding five tackles and a sack for Grand Valley.
Pena and the Cardinals will get a shot at the Roaring Fork Rams (0-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in Carbondale.