NORMAN — For the last four years Kierstan Pendleton had been quiet at Norman High. The senior defensive back was considered undersized and never earned a prominent role for the Tigers. He stayed in the background, enjoying being part of the team and adhering to his simple, two-part philosophy on football: Be phenomenal, and have fun.
Through two games this season, he’s done both.
Twice this season the Tigers have started out slow, and fallen behind early. And twice, Pendleton has come to their rescue.
The younger brother of former Oklahoma player Carl Pendleton, Kierstan has become the spark that keeps the Tigers going. Or, more accurately, the one that gets them going in the first place.
In the season opener against Norman North, the Tigers fell behind 7-0 early. That is, until Pendleton intercepted a David Cornwell pass and returned it for a touchdown that ignited a NHS comeback. And last week, the Tigers went down 10-0 to Moore and were clearly on their heels. That is, until Pendleton returned a punt for a score to regain the momentum and put the Tigers in control.
“He’s been the spark we’ve needed,” coach Greg Nation said. “What’s he’s done for us so far this year has been huge.”
Nation is understandably proud of the way Pendleton has developed, because it serves as a validation of the program the sixth-year coach has built at NHS. Pendleton didn’t arrive at NHS as a freshman phenom, nor did he draw attention the way some other flashy young athletes have. Instead, he diligently worked hard and proudly did his part in what he called the “family” at NHS.
“I couldn’t have gotten where I am without my friends, my family and my coaches here,” he said. “It’s a big help to have everyone behind you. We have team dinners to help the team bond. It helps you to stay with the game even if you’re not out there.”
That time put in paid off for Pendleton. He returned for his senior season more physically mature and fit than ever before, and coaches noticed. In addition to stepping up as a leader in the NHS secondary, he’s also continued to provide a home run threat in the special teams game while putting in some snaps at wideout.
“He’s a kid who’s played here every year and really just came up through the program,” Nation said. “He wears a lot of different hats for us, and having someone like him who stays with the program and develops shows what it’s all about. Having him makes our program better. He paid his dues and now he’s making the most of it.”
Pendleton isn’t done giving back to the program. Asked about his personal goals for the season, the underdog who wants to stick with sports after high school and maybe one day enter coaching could only think about the family he’s gained at NHS.
“I would enjoy getting a scholarship, but I really just want to help all the young guys,” he said. “I tell them we need to keep working to be phenomenal and not average. I want them to help them see what you can do if you work hard.”
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