Penna elected football captain despite 2000 suspension

Newly elected football captain Tim Penna ’02 said yesterday that he was suspended from all games last season for using a banned substance.

Last August Penna tested positive for androstenedione — a performance-enhancing anabolic agent banned by the NCAA — forcing him to sit out his entire junior season and forfeit a year of eligibility. But Friday morning, seven months after he hit rock bottom, Penna’s teammates elected him the 124th captain of Yale football.

“It was a mistake to take [the supplement],” Penna said. “It was a true challenge going through last year, and it’s just fantastic to be back on the same page with everyone this spring.”

Penna purchased the protein supplement — of which he said he could not recall the name — at a local nutrition store during fall practice last season. He said he had been taking the drug for less than two weeks when he was tested by the NCAA as part of a random campus screening.

When the banned substance showed up in Penna’s system, he was notified that he would be suspended for the entire season.

One of Yale’s rising defensive stars before his suspension last season, Penna earned a varsity letter as a sophomore and looked forward to a promising junior season. He was expected to play a major role in replacing departed defensive line stars Jeff Hockenbrock ’00, Eli Kelley ’00 and Peter Sarantos ’00. Instead, Penna spent the year in the press box, and several sophomores assumed the open spots on the defensive line.

Androstenedione is one of 82 substances specifically prohibited by the NCAA Executive Committee. The list of banned substances appears in the NCAA Athletes’ Handbook, which all Yale athletes receive before each season, Yale associate athletic director Colleen Lim said.

The NCAA has recently taken specific steps to alert student-athletes that over-the-counter substances often contain banned anabolic substances like androstenedione. There is a specific warning in the handbook that reads “student-athletes should check with their physicians or athletic trainer before considering taking any [over-the-counter supplements].”

“There is a warning posted in every workout room and every training room,” Lim said. “We tell every athlete exactly [what the handbook says] — if there is any question at all [about taking new supplements], the athlete should consult with a trainer or physician.””

Football and track are the only two Yale sports that submit to the NCAA campus drug-testing policy. The NCAA randomly tests participants in these sports one to four times a year while all other Yale athletes can only be tested at NCAA championship events, Lim said.

Despite his ineligibility for games last season, Penna practiced with the team every day.

More than anything, that may have made the biggest difference in Penna’s election Friday morning.

“I think it shows a lot about his attitude and about how much the guys on the team respect him,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “He was elected because he is a truly great leader and a guy that the team can identify with.”

Like outgoing Yale captain Peter Mazza ’01 before him, Penna’s presence can lead the team both by example and with his words.

Both captains also hail from Connecticut, with Penna coming from nearby Branford.

“He’s a great guy and a great leader,” Mazza said. “The team is going to be in good shape with him as captain.”

Penna said that he would try to carry on Mazza’s wonderful leadership, emphasizing the former captain’s tremendous work ethic and ability to stay positive.

So far Penna has shown that he has the potential to fill both of those roles admirably.

“He’s a great guy, plain and simple,” running back Jay Schulze ’03 said. “He just has that intangible element that makes a great captain.”

Tim Penna '02
courtesy sportspublicity
Tim Penna '02

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