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Athlete of the week: Pena ’17 runs right past Cornell in four-touchdown effort

Filling in for Cole ’16, Pena ’17 rushes for 112 yards in career-best performance

A program Hall-of-Famer and a former NFL player are desirable company for any member of the Brown football team.

Saturday afternoon, Johnny Pena ’17 put himself in rarefied air. The junior running back contributed four one-yard touchdown runs in the Bears’ 44-24 victory over Cornell. His four scores are the second-most in a single game in program history — Brown Hall-of-Famer Gustavus Russ ’1906 and former New England Patriot Michael Malan ’02 each recorded five touchdowns in a game during their tenures at Brown.

After playing on the junior varsity team during his first year and seeing action in just one game in his sophomore season, Pena has managed to make the most of his time on the field this year. In the game against Cornell, Pena rushed for a career-best 112 yards in addition to his four scores, making him the first of his teammates to break the century mark in rushing yards this season. Pena’s efforts also earned him a spot on the Ivy League’s weekly Honor Roll.

For his impactful and record-setting performance, Pena has been chosen as The Herald’s Athlete of the Week.

Herald: When did you first start playing football?

Pena: I started playing football when I was five years old at the flag football level. My uncle was the coach, and he just put me in. I always played sports. I started off with soccer, and football was kind of like the next step. A lot of my friends were doing it, so I think I just joined in. I’ve always liked football.

What is your favorite part of being a member of Brown’s football team?

My favorite part is the type of family aspect that we have within the team. I know everyone inside and out on the football team, so it brings a community feel. When we go on away games, it’s like a nice long field trip with a bunch of your friends. That’s what I like the most about it. And then when we win together, obviously it feels great.

How does it feel to be able to capitalize on the opportunities you’ve been given on the field this season?

It feels pretty good. I’m a junior now, so I’ve been putting in work for two years — my freshman and sophomore years — giving good looks on the scout team and stuff like that. Kids get hurt; it’s the game of football. So in my mind, once I get that opportunity, I have to capitalize because it’s just that next-man-up aspect that Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 brings to our team. So it feels good, and it definitely shows that hard work pays off. It’s bittersweet, though.

What do you think has contributed to the success you’ve had so far this season?

The linemen are a big, big part of my success. I love my linemen; they take good care of me. I just follow the holes that the linemen make. I’m super close with them, so I get to read them real well. Student support is nice — it definitely helps during the games. It helps keep our minds in the game when we see that support from our community.

What are your thoughts on the rest of the season?

I’m excited for the rest of the season because obviously we have a hungry team. We have a hard-working team. At this point on, it’s mind over matter. Kids are banged up, but to see them trying and wanting to play gets me excited because a hungry team is a dangerous team. I’m excited for the games coming up because anything can happen in the Ivy League. If Harvard loses to Dartmouth, we still have a chance at the title.

Do you have any pregame rituals?

I talk to my parents, definitely, before every game. I pretty much go on the field and get a feel for it. I walk around with my headphones in and warm up and stretch and get my mind right for battle. So nothing special, nothing crazy.

— This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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