Nov. 18, 2006

By Don Middleton

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No. 98 — Joel Penton. His name and number may not be synonymous with the highlight reels every week playing on the Buckeyes defensive line, but that doesn’t bother the fifth-year senior the slightest.

“I do not have much of desire for people to remember me,” Penton said. “If anything, I want them to remember the message that I bring and that’s the gospel. If I want them to remember anything it is to understand and accept the gospel. Whether they remember me is meaningless.”

Penton’s passion for the gospel and religion came in high school. As a freshman at Van Wert High School he was a leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His love for the gospel has continued at Ohio State, where he is a speaker and member of Athletes in Action and Campus Crusade for Christ – an interdenominational student-run Christian organization that provides a spiritual environment for students seeking to develop their relationship with God.

“Becoming a Christian as a freshman in high school etched in heart, mind and soul that my life is temporary,” Penton said. “It’s all temporal, but what lasts is God, His Word and the soul of men. I’m convinced we all have an eternity; everything else pales in comparison.”

Faith and religion has brought Penton many opportunities since coming to Ohio State, including meeting his wife, Bethany Groskopf, a former OSU gymnast. He recalls going to his first meeting at Campus Crusade and the person leading the meeting was a very good-looking gymnast. The 6-foot-5-inch football player thought, “I need to talk to her.”

At first, he thought she was way out of his league, not only because of her good looks but because she was a junior and he was only a freshman. The two started out as friends at first but as soon as football season ended they had more time to spend with each other and quickly began dating.

“We had a conversation in my dorm room my freshman year deciding whether we should date,” Penton said. “She initiated the conversation so I always teased her that she asked me out and we always joked about that exact conversation.”

That conversation is held in very high regard to Penton, who was able to use that conversation when he decided to propose to Bethany. He called it an elaborate “trick” that he played on her.

“On my birthday, I had just come back from East Asia,” he said. “One of my friends convinced her there was a surprise party for me near my old dorm. If they weren’t ready for me, she was to take me up to the dorm. Of course they weren’t ready, so I asked her, `while we’re here why don’t we go up to my old room and see it?’ We immediately started talking about our conversation from the night we began dating. But this time we switched roles and as I initiated the conversation, instead of asking her if we should date, I asked her to marry me. I had the ring in the drawer. She had no clue, she was so surprised.”

The two married March 19, 2005. The couple would like to use their faith and possibly take a mission trip overseas with Athletes in Action to a country where Christianity is not well known.

Another opportunity to spread the gospel is helped by being able to play football at Ohio State, which has allowed the 290-pound defensive tackle the ability to be a speaker to other students, organizations and teammates about the impact and importance of religion and how it has affected his life.

Penton helped organize the Main Event, an event that was held last on campus last month and sponsored by Athletes in Action and by ministers across Central Ohio. It had a kind of pep rally type feel though was not as much a Christian outreach as it was an opportunity for Buckeye fans to hear what players have to say about their personal lives and their faith.

It was an event players wanted to do to give back to the fans to show their appreciation for the support they give the team year in and year out. While Penton played an active role in planning the event, Roy Hall, David Patterson, Stan White Jr. also attended. Coach Jim Tressel provided the keynote address and other players, including James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Vernon Gholston and former Buckeye quarterback, Craig Krenzel, were on hand.

Patterson, who considers Penton one of his best friends on and off the field, said that the “old man” is usually serious but can be very funny and can always be counted on. Penton’s toughness and hard-nosed, physical play has been a tremendous help to him.

Some players use quotes by legendary players or famous figures for motivation or as words to live by. While Penton does not have one particular thing he uses for his motivation on the football field, he does have a bible verse that stands out in his mind.

It is Acts 20:24, which reads, “However I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

After Penton graduates later this year, because of his passion to speak to groups, he would like to continue that activity on all topics religion or otherwise and enter full-time Christian ministry. Something Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said should not be a problem.

“Joel is definitely the spiritual leader of the team,” Heacock said. “He does a great job of helping young kids and his outreach to the community is second to none. Joel has the drive to do what he wants because he is an extremely hard worker. Whatever his goals are, he will get it done.”