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Pender and Pender to reunite on college gridiron


Craig and Clay Pender may have connected on hundreds of touchdown passes in the past, but that would have been when they were playing in the yard as kids. The two were on the same Barnwell High School team years ago, but that was Clay’s freshman year, when he was a kicking specialist. Now, Craig and Clay Pender will both be donning the garnet and gold for the Flying Fleet of Erskine College.

Craig was a highly touted quarterback for the Warhorses and threw for 4,855 yards and 58 touchdowns on the way to winning Region Championships and Lower-State Titles. Younger brother Clay was a preseason watch list candidate for Mr. Football for the State of South Carolina and came into his own as a highly recognized wide receiver, making several big plays and scoring quite a few touchdowns of his own. Clay probably earned as many or more awards than his big brother, along the way. Now, Clay will be on the receiving end of many of those Craig passes, as they hope to bring the Flying Fleet offense to the top of the South Atlantic Conference.

When asked about their thoughts on sharing the field together, Craig said, “It is a blessing first off to get to share the field together again. The first time, I was a senior and he was a freshman and just did special teams for us. This time we will be connecting to score touchdowns together.”

Clay responded in a very similar way saying, “The first time around, we weren’t able to throw and catch considering I was just the kicker at the time, but we have done our fair share of throwing outside of games and practices with the team, so we definitely have some experience together, so I’m looking forward to catching some TDs from my brother for sure.” 

“It is a true blessing to have the opportunity to see the boys get a chance to play together again. Man it is going to be exciting to watch them lead the Fleet this fall and light up that scoreboard. I can’t wait to see them get the opportunity to show what they can do,” said Britt Pender, father and one of the boys’ high school coaches.

Mandy Smith, mother and number one fan, said, “My first thought was that this would make my Saturdays a lot easier to only have one team to go watch and not have to decide who I would watch. In all seriousness, my favorite thing was watching the two of them on the field together in high school. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see them play together again. Craig returning to Erskine this year was definitely God’s timing and it worked out for them to be teammates once again.”

I jokingly asked Mandy whose jersey she would be wearing and she replied, “It is the running joke that Clay is my favorite, but I would definitely always want to support both of the boys while they are on the field...I will probably get a shirt with both numbers.” 

Craig played for Erskine after graduating from Barnwell, but decided to step away from the game last year. The coaching staff was happy to welcome Craig Pender back into the family for the upcoming season. After seeing moments of brilliance, like his very first start against Barton College, that should not be surprising. Pender was 23 for 32 passing for 262 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in the Fleet’s 30-28 win over Barton. Craig addressed coming back to Erskine, saying, “I thank God every day for giving me this opportunity, again. I took it for granted the first time around, so this time I am playing from a different perspective. I am still the same guy and I am still a winner!”

Both Penders were multi-sport athletes. I asked Clay if he had any thoughts about trying to play baseball at Erskine after having a great season for the Warhorse baseball team, hitting .564 and leading the team in batting average, hits, runs, doubles, and RBIs. He said, “I’ve considered the possibility of trying to play baseball, but I’m giving myself some time over the summer to really think and make a good decision regarding my future.”

I asked Craig who might be the most excited to see the brothers reunited on the field. He said, “Really all of my family and friends are excited for what we will look like on the field. Clay and I are truly blessed with the family we do have and I’m grateful we get to play together for everyone to see!”

Both parents, other family, friends, and many Erskine and Warhorse fans are all eagerly anticipating that first Pender to Pender touchdown pass this fall and hopefully, many more to come. Best wishes to both for a successful reunion on the field.