Most memorable game?
Penisini: Our 2018 game against BYU, they came to our house and were up by over 20 points. Our fans were quiet, BYU was talking junk, they hadn't beaten us for eight-straight games, but we came back and beat them. I had a fourth-down stop to stuff a run and seal the game. Feeling the crowd screaming – that was the loudest stadium I've heard. I couldn't hear anything or anyone.
What is your main source of motivation?
Penisini: Being in college and learning how to grow up and do things on my own, I noticed how much my mom and dad really did for me. They've been working at Walmart since I was born. To see them come over from the islands, from Tonga, to moving to California, then starting our new life in Utah, I didn't truly understand their dedication. They had to grow up fast and support our family, and I look forward to giving back to them.
Favorite team & player growing up?
Penisini: I had two teams – the Ravens and the Chargers. I absolutely loved Ray Lewis and their whole defense. They had Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, all of those guys. Paul Kruger as well. The Chargers, we had a Utah guy over there, Eric Weddle. I love Eric Weddle, and I really looked up to LaDainian Tomlinson. Antonio Gates and Shawne Merriman were awesome too.
View photos of defensive tackle John Penisini.
Biggest obstacle you've overcome?
Penisini: I would say my dad's heart problem. It got really bad the first time it happened, though it happened twice. They caught it early the second time. The first time, he got really sick and he was super skinny. He looked weird when he was really skinny because he's a bigger dude.
The first time it happened, I was a senior in high school, looking for a college to go to. I was doing all sorts of applications. Weber State came to talk to me, and right after that meeting I heard my dad was in the hospital. It was pretty bad. Then it happened my senior year of college. We were about to get ready for our senior retreat, and then my mom told me that my dad was sick. I stayed back and didn't want to go on the retreat. Stuff like that showed me I have to step up just in case. He's better now.
Proudest achievement outside of football?
Penisini: Graduating college. It was a journey. Being in college is crazy because I hated school when I was younger and had bad grades until middle school. My high school grades were alright, but not as good as they should have been. That changed in college. I went to a JUCO and had really good grades then had good grades at Utah.
I was in sociology, but I fell in love with financial planning. I just wanted to learn about money, and I actually plan to go back to learn more about finance.
Are there any particular causes you are passionate about?
Penisini: I'm trying to learn about this. My coaches were talking about foundations they started to raise money for Polynesian people, so I will have to look into that.
When I was younger, there were kids in my neighborhood who couldn't pay for football. My coach growing up paid my fee to play football because he knew our family couldn't pay for it ourselves. Every year, my coach paid my fee to play football and even paid for me to go to football camps.
I want to help people play the sport who normally don't have the chance to play.