It isn’t difficult to draw parallels between Michael Penix Jr. and Austin Mack.
Ryan Grubb has already done it.
When Mack — a four-star quarterback in the 2024 class — took an unofficial visit to Washington on Jan. 21, he was treated to a peek into his possible future. Grubb, UW’s second-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, prepared clips of passes Penix completed last season … alongside identical throws by Mack.
Penix drops a dime. Mack drops a dime.
Penix. Mack. Penix. Mack.
Present. Future. Repeat.
Granted, the details were different. Penix routinely ruined overmatched Pac-12 secondaries in his first season as Washington’s starter — throwing for a school record and nation-leading 4,641 yards, with 35 total touchdowns and eight interceptions. Mack, meanwhile, flourished in his first season as the varsity starter at Folsom (Calif.) High — completing 70.4% of his throws for 3,498 yards, with 42 touchdowns and just five picks.
Their ages are different. (Mack is 16, while Penix is 22.)
Their frames are different. (Mack is 6-6, 215, while Penix is 6-3, 213.)
Their throwing hands are different. (Mack is a righty; Penix is a lefty.)
It’s an imperfect comparison — but you get the point.
In Penix’s success, Mack saw the possibilities.
“It was everything [that attracted me to Washington],” Mack said Monday. “They’re the No. 1 passing team in the country. Mike Penix is the No. 1 passer in the nation. That definitely stood out a ton. Coach Grubb and [head coach Kalen] DeBoer, they also really stood out to me, especially when I was there for my unofficial [visit]. Seeing them and having those conversations with them really stood out.”
Enough so that Mack — ranked as a four-star recruit, the No. 7 quarterback, the No. 8 player in the state of California and the No. 53 overall prospect in the 2024 class by 247Sports.com — announced a verbal commitment 10 days after completing his official visit. He chose the Huskies over Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State and more.
Mack effectively ended his recruiting process 11 months early.
And the decision, it seems, was a mutual one.
“On the unofficial [visit], I was with my parents and we had a ton of really good conversations with coach Grubb and coach DeBoer, which really helped my parents with feeling good about it,” Mack said. “After that it was really like a family decision. It was time to pull the trigger. For me especially, I was set. It was up to them, if they were good with it.”
It helped, of course, that Grubb declined an Alabama offer to remain at Washington roughly 24 hours before Mack made his announcement. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound passer said Grubb’s continued presence is “definitely super important, because it’s not every day you get offered a job at Alabama. It really just proved how strong the culture they created there is, and that’s really inspiring for me. Especially with me being committed there now, I’m really excited to join that culture and build it up even more.”
But when will he begin to build? Though Mack is 16 — young for a high-school junior — and has a single season of varsity starting experience, it’s possible he could graduate early, reclassify into the 2023 class and join the Huskies this offseason. Four-star 2023 freshman Lincoln Kienholz’s December flip to Ohio State and redshirt sophomore Sam Huard’s subsequent transfer to Cal Poly left UW with just two scholarship quarterbacks this winter, sixth-year senior Penix and fifth-year junior Dylan Morris.
During last week’s signing day, roughly four hours before Mack announced his commitment, DeBoer said on Pac-12 Network that “we certainly know we need to have another quarterback in our program. I think it’s tricky because it’s not going to be an upperclassman necessarily, because Mike [Penix] is here. Sitting behind him, if you’re on your last year or so [of eligibility], isn’t that attractive. Finding a younger guy could possibly be the route to go.”
Should Mack go that route, he’d have a year to learn from DeBoer and Grubb, digest UW’s offense, study Penix and embrace the strength and conditioning program, before competing for the starting job in 2024. Or he could stay and thrive in his senior high-school season, before joining a two-quarterback class alongside three-star Garfield signal caller and Husky commit EJ Caminong.
Mack — who declined to comment on the prospect of reclassifying — may have a decision to make.
Either way, he’s proven willing to wait for his opportunity.
“Personally, it wasn’t that difficult, because I knew there was a plan,” said Mack, when asked about his two-year wait for Folsom’s starting quarterback job. “I knew I wasn’t good enough. I knew I had to get better to play at that high of a level, especially being the quarterback at Folsom. I used that as my motivation to get better through the offseason between my sophomore and junior year. That really helped me.”
Sooner or later, Mack is headed to Seattle — same as another Folsom Bulldog, in former Husky quarterback Jake Browning. The Bengals’ Browning just completed his fourth NFL season, after leaving UW with numerous school records and more wins (39) than any QB in Pac-12 history. And after Mack committed last week, Browning reached out with congratulations and an open-ended offer for future advice.
It’s natural, given their shared positions and paths, to search for similarities between the two.
And for Mack, Husky quarterback comparisons are nothing new.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.