PUEBLO, Colo. (CBS4)- When Super Bowl 55 kicks off, Colorado will be well represented. Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett played for the Colorado State Rams from 2011 to 2013. He will look to win his second Super Bowl as he won his first ring with the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
But the college with the most players playing in the game from Colorado will be from Division II power Colorado State-Pueblo Thunderwolves. Ryan Jensen is the starting center for the Buccaneers and Mike Pennel is a reserve defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jensen, 29, played at CSU-Pueblo from 2009 to 2012. He arrived on campus from Fort Morgan High School as an undersized lineman. To stand out, he had to play with a mean streak which is an attitude he still uses in the pros.
"My freshman year I started left tackle at 235 pounds soak and wet," Jensen said. "So, all I had was my ability to play intense. Play physical. Play through the whistle. You know, that's how I survived and as I grew as a player size wise and skill wise it just stuck with me."
Jensen developed into one of the top offensive linemen in the country and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He played for years with the Ravens before signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Buccaneers in 2018. Now that he's snaping to six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, Jensen's college coach has a new nickname for him.
"Now he's the goat snapper. How about that? When he when they brought him in Tom Brady, we were giving him a bad time. So, you're officially the goat snapper? And he said 'yep.' And it's been pretty cool," said CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen.
As Jensen graduated, Mike Pennel was just arriving on campus. The Aurora native played at Grandview High School, then to Scottsdale Junior College in Arizona, and finally at Arizona State where he had a short stint with the team as he was suspended indefinitely for "not meeting team standards."
So, he transferred a level lower to Division II Colorado State-Pueblo for a last chance at not only playing college football, but also keeping his NFL dreams alive in 2013. Coach Wristen knew Pennel was special from day one.
"I'm looking out there and I see a kid do a backflip. Holy smokes! A big human being can do a backflip," Wristen recalled in disbelief. "You just marvel as his athletic ability."
At 6-4, 332-pounds, Pennel dominated Division II play and achieved his NFL dreams by earning a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He started five games in three seasons with the Packers.
After being waved from the Packers in 2017, Pennel was picked up by the New York Jets where he played two seasons. He was out of football until the Chiefs signed him midseason on Oct. 19, 2019. In Super Bowl LIV he had a tackle and a quarterback hit as the Chiefs won 31-20. He gave his Super Bowl jersey to coach Wristen as a token of his appreciation for helping him at CSU-Pueblo.
"I was elated that he finally reached the pinnacle. We all dream about playing the Super Bowl, and he was able to do that," Coach Wristen said.
Coach Wristen is proud to see two of his players playing in the biggest game of their lives on Sunday. When the game begins, he'll be rooting for the underdog.
"I would like to see Ryan Jensen, win a Super Bowl ring, Mike Pennell won a Super Bowl ring. So, I hope it goes to overtime and be able to get that done."
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