Last Sunday afternoon, Santa Ana (Mater Dei), Calfornia, tight end Kyle Penniston tweeted about his plans to visit Madison this weekend. Enthusiasm abounded during a conversation with the junior standout less than an hour after that declaration. Penniston expects to mingle with five of the nine current verbal commits for Wisconsin, along with many of the other recruits expected to visit.
"It's a good thing," Penniston said. "I can get out there and interact with the guys, so I'm excited for it."
Penniston was Wisconsin's second verbal commitment in February, choosing the Badgers over other powerhouse programs in Miami and defending national champion Florida State. Since then, he's received offers from Oklahoma and Louisville.
Despite the interest from these noteworthy schools, he remains committed to Wisconsin and looks forward to enrolling early this upcoming January -- not to mention spreading the word about head coach Gary Andersen's program.
The 6'5, 232-pound tight end has Midwestern roots. His family visited the state once or twice a year near the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, and his father is also from Minnesota. Being comfortable with the area was one thing, but after coming out to one of the Badgers' camps last summer in Madison, Penniston noted how the coaches were the best he met during his recruiting journey.
"What they said to me was that they care about you a lot, not just for your skills on the football field, but also they really want to help develop you as a person," Penniston said.
"Their No. 1 goal is to get you a degree."
Penniston, who's rated a four-star prospect by Rivals and 247 Sports and a three-star by Scout.com, wanted to get on campus quickly. He decided to enroll this upcoming January after weighing his options and ultimately foregoing two staples of a high school student's senior year: prom and graduation.
Despite missing those experiences, Penniston hopes to make the most of the spring practice sessions and capitalize on having early exposure to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's system.
"Being able to get out to Wisconsin and start school early, and really just get to know the players and really understand the offense was definitely more important," Penniston said.
Also impressive for the West Coast product is his commitment to spreading the word about the UW program to fellow high school recruits. He's talked often with four-star offensive linemen David Moorman, who committed to the Badgers in early May, and has been after recruits ranging from five-star defensive end Kahlil McKenzie to two-star linebacker Chris Orr. BadgerNation.com's Ben Worgull believes there's been no better recruiter for Wisconsin in recent memory than Penniston.
"Having a highly-regarded player speaking so positively about your program on a social platform like Twitter certainly doesn't hurt the UW brand," Worgull said. "The coaching staff is probably thrilled he's coming on campus this weekend and will get to mingle with all the uncommitted prospects who currently hold a Badgers offer."
"I like to go out of my way because I want to build on our class," Penniston said. "We have a great class right now, but we can still make it a lot better."
After this weekend's visit, Penniston does not know when he'll get back to Madison before enrolling in January. He noted it may be the week of the South Florida or Illinois home games (Sept. 27 or Oct. 11, respectively) or even until after the regular season in December, as taking an official visit in the fall is difficult. Mater Dei's bye week lies on the same week as Wisconsin's.
Until then, he'll be working out during summer football sessions with his teammates in preparation for his senior campaign. Penniston believes he's a tight end that has the ability to block well, citing a run game at Mater Dei that produced three straight 300-yard games.
Penniston is also confident in his football IQ. He sits in on quarterback meetings with offensive coordinator Dave Money, who's coached the likes of former college standouts Matt Leinart, Colt Brennan and Matt Barkley. He loves absorbing the knowledge of the game.
"It comes second-nature to you," Penniston said. "It's something that's really, I think, is important just because it makes the game a lot easier and a lot more fun to play."
Worgull predicts Penniston as a very sure-handed pass-catching threat, particularly in the red zone and a go-to guy on key third-down possessions. Pennison's commitment also filled a need at tight end and provided some flexibility, as Wisconsin has lost four scholarship tight ends in the past two seasons.
"Depending on how UW looks at Penniston, either a guy that can bulk up to play on the line or a guy that can split out to create a mismatch with, will determine what kind of tight end they target next," Worgull said.
Penniston believes he can play both a more traditional, hand-in-the-ground tight end and also a hybrid, H-back look as former Badger Jacob Pedersen showed during his junior season. Regardless of where he lines up in the offense, he's willing to do whatever the coaching staff asks him in Madison to see the field.
"That's something that I'm just going to do whatever they need me to do."