John Penisini was waiting by his phone Saturday afternoon, "preparing for the worst." He told himself it wouldn't ring. Not until the draft was over, at least.
"Just looking for an undrafted free agent (call)," he said.
"It’s a blessing to actually make it to the sixth round," he said. "I was projected to be a seventh-rounder or even undrafted. Right now, I’m excited, my mom’s happy and everyone is happy. It's shocking and it’s a blessing, to be honest.”
If he comes off as humble, so is he hungry. Penisini was part of a vaunted defensive line at Utah, and sometimes got overlooked playing next to Leki Fotu, a fourth-round pick of the Cardinals, and Bradlee Anae, a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys.
"People don’t really look at me just because I was a shorter player and nameless," he said. "Was under the radar pretty much, definitely with the talent that we had at Utah -- our ‘D-Line U’ over here."
Shorter? Sure, if that's what you consider 6'2. Nameless? (We won't even go there.) But ultimately, Penisini is 333 lbs. of power, and he intends on making himself known in the NFL.
"Most slept on in the draft," he said. "But also just a hard worker. It shows at Utah, especially from the coaches, you can ask them. They know what I do, and our program’s tough and they are built tough. That’s the kind of player you guys are going to get, just a tough player."
Penisini landed in the right spot to make an impact. The Lions overhauled the interior of their defensive line this offseason. They need a run-stuffer to play behind free agent acquisition Danny Shelton, and Penisini fits the bill.
It wouldn't be the first time he's overcome the odds. Penisini spent two years at a junior college -- where "food is limited," he said -- before forging his way onto the roster at Utah. Then he became a two-time All-Pac 12 member of one of the best defenses in the country.
Now he's bringing his grind, all 333 lbs. of it, to Detroit.
"Ready to work," he said, "and really excited."