Penei Sewell: Southern Utah football’s first first-rounder

Desert Hills' Penei Sewell (58), Desert Hills vs. Hurricane, Football, St. George, UT, Sept. 8, 2017, | File photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A dream came true for a Southern Utah football product in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Desert Hills’ Penei Sewell (58), Snow Canyon vs. Desert Hills, Football, St. George, Utah, Oct. 19, 2017 | File photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Penei Sewell, an offensive tackle that graduated from Desert Hills High School in 2018 was selected No. 7 overall by the Detroit Lions. The 20-year-old becomes the highest-drafted player in Southern Utah prep history.

“He’s one of a kind, I think,” former Desert Hills football head coach Carl Franke told St. George News. “You don’t have a lot of kids at 330 pounds that move like him.”

Sewell is recognized for his strength and speed, coming in at 6 feet, 5 inches and 331 pounds. He has the ability to plow his way through defenders and set up big-time runs to whichever side he’s holding down. He’ll now get to test and develop those skills against the best block evaders and tacklers the sport has to offer.

Sewell, along with his brother:Nephi and cousin Bundy, led the Thunder to a state title in 2016. Nephi, a running back, rushed for more than 1,000 yards that season, often behind his brother’s lead, to take regional MVP. Two years later, Penei was the No. 1 football prospect in the state of Utah.

Desert Hills’ Penei Sewell (58), Desert Hills vs. Jordan, Football, St. George, UT, Aug. 18, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Following high school, Sewell signed on with Oregon. In his sophomore season, the talent rose to the surface as he was named an unanimous All-American, the Pac-12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, the PFF Pac-12 Player of the Year, the winner of the Morris Trophy as the best lineman in the Pac-12 and the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in collegiate football. He even earned some Heisman Trophy votes. The Ducks won their third consecutive Rose Bowl that season and finished 12-2 overall. Sewell opted out of the 2020-21 spring season during the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for the 2021 draft.

Sewell grew up learning football from his father, Gabriel, in their home of American Samoa before moving to St. George. He’s the first graduate of Desert Hills to be selected in the draft. Before Sewell, Dixie High’s Doug Jolley was the highest-taken player in the NFL Draft, taken in the second round, 55th overall by the then Oakland Raiders. Overall, Sewell is just the fourth player drafted out of what is today’s Region 9: Jolley and Barney Hafen from Dixie and John Ursua from Cedar.

Sewell joins quarterback Zach Wilson of BYU as the two Utah High School Activities Association alumni to go in the top 10 picks. Wilson was selected second overall by the New York Jets.

The one knock on Sewell in some scouting reports was a supposed low work ethic. Franke was quick to dispel that idea.

Penei Sewell, at right, is joined after an Oregon Ducks football game by his father Gabriel Sewell and former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, now with the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL. Date and location of photo not specified. | Photo courtesy of Gabe Sewell, St. George News

“He’ll go to the pros and people will doubt him and I guarantee he’ll change people’s minds pretty quick,” Franke said. “Football is his love. With all the God-given talents he has, the other thing about it is, we had a lot of kids come through the program that we put into the next level and not every one of them had the same abilities Penei had but they were pushed to achieve their dreams. A lot of those kids fell short of those dreams because they didn’t have the work ethic that Penei has.”

Franke said that Detroit got a rare-breed, talented and hard-working player. But he also highlighted the character of Sewell as well, calling him a teammate that held others accountable while still having their back.

“The city of Detroit is super lucky to get somebody that’s going be fully committed to the community, to the team,” Franke said.

Franke also said it may just be the beginning for one of Southern Utah’s premier football families and to keep an eye out for Nephi next year after his senior season at Utah.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.



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