Beyond the Game: Once homeless and living in a car, freshman set to play college football

UAPB's Jonah Penalver (KATV photo).JPG

In early August, Jonah Penalver arrived in Pine Bluff with nothing but a few bags. That's because only a few weeks earlier, the freshman from Ft. Myers, Florida was living in a car.

"What I've been through is crazy man," he acknowledged.

Penalver's journey to Arkansas-Pine Bluff has been anything but easy.

When Penalver was a child, his younger brother died of cancer. Around the same time, his parents' rocky relationship hit a rough patch.

"I'm a seven or eight year old in the living room watching my parents argue and stuff. I didn't like going through that."

His parents divorced, and shortly thereafter, his mom started to fall ill. She battled heart and kidney diseases for years.

"I was living with her, and she was going to the hospital everyday. She had dialysis three, four times a week. [She] could hardly take care of me and my [twin] brother.

"She went to all my games. She went to everything. She was there for me through everything. And she couldn't even watch me graduate. She couldn't watch me walk the stage or anything, which was hard for me."

Penalver's mom died in March, 2018.

One week later, however, he received a reason for optimism when he needed it most: an offer from UAPB.

"I needed some good news," he said. "I needed good news somehow."

He had four months until he could move into the college dorms, though. So Penalver and his twin brother moved in with their dad.

"Then things just started going downhill," he said of their relationship with their father.

With nowhere to go, Penalver and his brother were out of options. They had nowhere to stay other than a friend's Nissan Altima.

"I was living in a car.

"I really had nowhere to go. It was hard, really hard to go day by day like that. It was hard. I would ask everyone for help and I got help so I ended up doing alright. I'm OK now."

Penalver is competing to be the Golden Lions' long-snapper.

"I just think about the time I didn't have this. So I appreciate it more. I appreciate it a lot more."

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