Undrafted Colts RB Trent Pennix, a converted tight end, plays for brother he never met

INDIANAPOLIS — Trent Pennix is playing for someone he never got to meet.

His older brother, Travis.

Travis was only one year old when he died. His parents put Travis to bed one night, and the baby never woke up, a victim of sudden infant death syndrome, more commonly called SIDS.

Pennix carries his brother’s legacy with him wherever he goes.

“When my parents told me, it broke me down,” Pennix said. “That was how I knew I had a purpose in life, knowing that I was a blessing for my parents. God blessed them with another child.”

He has carried the legacy of his brother all the way to the NFL.

Pennix, a high school running back who spent most of his career at North Carolina State as a tight end, is now in the Colts rookie minicamp, back at the position he played in high school.

His career with the Wolfpack was marred and pockmarked by injury — a separated right shoulder in 2021, a fractured left scapula in 2022 — but he fought through all of it to get to this point, putting on a Colts uniform at rookie minicamp as a member of the Indianapolis roster.

He fought through all of it for Travis.

“That’s my why,” Pennix said. “Literally everything I do is for him. When there are times when stuff gets rough, when I feel like I’m about to quit, workouts are too hard, practice is too hard, I look to the sky and say, ‘This is for you, bro.’ I’m not going to quit until I physically can’t do it anymore.”

Pennix is arguably the most intriguing undrafted free agent the Colts have signed so far.

He carries a massive physique for a running back, a 6-1, 234-pound frame that should not be as explosive as it is. Pennix ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds at his pro day, and posted solid numbers in the vertical and broad jumps.

But he went through that process and pro day believing his career as a running back was far behind him. Pennix rushed for 3,039 yards and 35 touchdowns at Sanderson High in Raleigh, N.C., drawing the attention of plenty of programs. He landed at North Carolina State, spent his first two seasons as a running back and then began the transition to tight end.

Pennix primarily played tight end the past couple of seasons.

He thought he would play a variation of that role in the NFL.

"Teams were looking at me as a fullback and an H-back, kind of a hybrid guy,” Pennix said. “The Colts were the only team that was offering me to play as a running back. When all the options closed down, the Colts were still standing, I was like, I guess I’m going to make the switch back to RB.”

Indianapolis had somebody in the building who’d seen what Pennix could do as a running back.

When Pennix was tearing through rush defenses at Sanderson, Colts running backs coach DeAndre Smith was part of the staff at North Carolina, charged with recruiting Pennix to the Tar Heels. Pennix, honestly, didn’t remember Smith until the coach mentioned a showcase game he’d played against Heritage High.

“It’s crazy how it comes full circle,” Pennix said.

Smith had seen Pennix as a running back.

But the real credit for the signing goes to player personnel scout Andrew Hoyle.

“Our pro (scouts) will look at all the guys we have rated as priority free agents, seventh-round types, and they will help us separate them and stack them,” Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds said. “Hoyle mentioned: ‘Hey, this guy has a unique deal catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s played back there. I think he can be a third-down back.'”

Third-down backs are often smaller, shiftier types.

Evan Hull and Tyler Goodson, the other two running backs on the Colts roster who play the third-down role, are listed at 5-10, 209 pounds and 5-9, 197 pounds, respectively.

“Pennix is a bigger guy at the running back position,” Indianapolis head coach Shane Steichen said.

All that bulk has a benefit.

While Pennix might not have the speed of a player like Hull or Goodson, he has the size to take on a blitzing linebacker or a free pass rusher and deliver a significant blow of his own.

Pennix can also move the pile as a runner.

“Put me in packages where you need goal-line, short distance, anything where you need me to get those two, three extra yards,” Pennix said. “If you need the between-the-tackle yards, I’m more of a guy you can use that for, or protecting the quarterback.

The Colts were convinced enough in the possibilities that they guaranteed $10,000 of his salary, a modest sum but still on the higher end of the incentives Indianapolis gave its group of seven undrafted free agents this year.

Pennix is back in his old position, eyes aimed on carving out a future in the NFL.

“For my family, for my brother that passed away,” Pennix said. “It really means a lot, knowing that I’m carrying the Pennix name for the rest of my life.”

He wants to make it count.

For the brother he never met.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: UDFA Colts TE-turned RB Trent Pennix playing for brother he never met