BRADFORD – Bradford senior Hunter Penkal achieved a major goal by committing to play college football at Hillsdale College.
Penkal, the son of John and Angie Penkal, has been working toward his dream of playing college football for years. The recruiting process really picked up after his junior season, he said, and on Thursday afternoon he committed to Hillsdale in front of his family and friends at Bradford High School.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Penkal said. “Getting the opportunity to do it coming from such a small school is … it just feels great. Not many people get this chance from Bradford.”
Penkal, whose ultimate dream is to make the NFL as a player or front office executive, was drawn to Hillsdale because of its strong academics and welcoming atmosphere.
“The people there are extremely nice and welcoming,” said Penkal, who plans to study sports management in college. “I can tell I’m going to fit really well with the locker room as soon as I get there.”
Penkal is very intelligent, Bradford football coach Chris Hawk said, which benefits him greatly in the classroom and on the football field.
“As a player, as a person, it’s the same thing,” Hawk said. “He’s very intelligent; that goes on and off the field. He’s almost a 3.99, 4.0 student in the classroom, and on the field he’s got the same type of mentality. Sometimes it doesn’t always carry over. In his case it did. Anything we wanted we were able to show him once and he was able to do it for us – not just then but continue through the season and do it.”
Bradford utilized Penkal at numerous positions including quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back and punter. His versatility will be a big benefit in college, Hawk said.
“When he gets to college he’ll have a lot of opportunities to find the best fit for him,” the Bradford coach said.
Penkal expects to play running back for Hillsdale, which went 7-4 this past season. The Chargers were 5-2 in the conference standings in their first season in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, a NCAA Division II conference that also includes teams from Alderson Broaddus, Findlay, Kentucky Wesleyan, Lake Erie, Malone, Ohio Dominican and Walsh.
“It’s great,” Penkal said. “I think it’s top three Division II wins all time. So it’s one of the better Division II football programs.
“It feels great. It’s just a dream. I didn’t know I’d get this opportunity, and I worked for it so it just feels so good.”
Hillsdale was one of the first teams that started recruiting him, Penkal said, and he looks forward to contributing to the Chargers’ success.
“I just want to be successful there,” he said.
Hawk thinks Penkal is in a good position to be successful in college though he’ll have to adjust to the level of play just like every freshman does.
“He’s going to have his lumps and bruises like everybody else coming in as a freshman,” the Bradford coach said. “He’s going to have the learn the differences of the speed of the game, but with being so intelligent, with being a good athlete – he’s a heck of an athlete and he’s got a great work ethic – so I think he’ll do fine.”
Along with being great for him and his family, Penkal’s commitment also was a big moment for the Bradford football program and something Hawk hopes will benefit the Railroaders.
“It’s a big day for him and his family,” Hawk said. “It’s a big day for the program. This is my first scholarship as a head coach. It’s a great day for us, and we’re hoping to continue on that and build from him.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.