Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and his staff believed Penei Sewell had Outland Trophy-level talent during the recruiting process.
“It’s a great example of the types of battles that Oregon is capable of winning,” Cristobal said after the Ducks beat Alabama and USC for Sewell’s services on signing day in February 2018. “He’s an ultimate difference maker.”
Less than two years later, Sewell is an Outland Trophy finalist.
“It’s a dream come true,” Sewell said after Tuesday’s practice. “It just makes me want to go harder and go after it all.”
Over the last 30 years, an offensive tackle has won the award given to the nation’s top interior lineman, on offense or defense, 14 times. All of those winners were upperclassmen.
Sewell is a 19-year-old sophomore.
“To do it that fast is really special,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “He’s a special kid. We knew that coming in, right, and he’s just developed in a really fast manner, really high football I.Q. And he’s earned it.
Oregon’s 6-foot-6, 325-pound left tackle is the top-ranked offensive lineman in the country, as graded out by Pro Football Focus.
Sewell replaced Tyrell Crosby, now in his second season with the Detroit Lions, on the veteran line as a true freshman. He fit in seamlessly with seniors Shane Lemieux (left guard), Jake Hanson (center), Dallas Warmack (right guard) and Calvin Throckmorton (right tackle).
“They’re my brothers,” Sewell said. “I’m just happy they welcomed me with open arms. I came in and just got loved and just felt comfortable here. Having that feeling just gave me the confidence to just play ball.”
Sewell leads the team with 52 knockdown blocks and has allowed six quarterback pressures in 403 pass-blocking snaps while protecting projected NFL first-round pick Justin Herbert’s blindside this season.
“I’ve been extremely blessed in my left tackles that I've been around. Obviously, Tyrell is great, but I think Penei is a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Lemieux said. “Everyone hypes him up, but I think it's very well deserved for him. …
“The chemistry we built in this short amount of time is really compared to nothing I've ever had. I’m really excited for him and his future and for these last few games with him.”
Sewell’s younger brother, Noah Sewell, verbally committed to Oregon last Friday night after leading his high school team to a state championship in Utah. The addition of the five-star linebacker prospect moved the program’s 2020 class up to No. 7 in Rivals’ team rankings.
“I was crazy excited to hear that because I didn’t know,” Penei Sewell said. “Me and my brothers don’t really talk recruiting because, at the end of the day, they’ve got to go to the school.
“But when I heard that, man, let’s go!”
Sewell is the second Oregon player to be a finalist for the Outland Trophy, joining defensive nose tackle Haloti Ngata (2005).
Wisconsin center Tyler Biadascz and Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown are the other finalists this year. The winner will be announced during ESPN’s college football awards show on Dec. 12.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” Sewell said of the spectacular start to his career. Oregon is 14-3 in his starts at left tackle. “I just came here and just wanted to work under Cristobal. Whatever came with it, I’m happy.”
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