SAN ANTONIO — Nothing at Jordan Penn's house was safe from disassembling because the high school junior said he had a thing for taking things apart. It started when he was young.
"Batteries, remotes, anything I could find around the house," Penn said. "I usually just took apart to figure out how it's made it."
Penn, 16, said he was active and did well in elementary school.
"I was always the special kid in the classroom," Penn said.
In fifth grade, the Sam Houston High School student said he had an academic slump. The teen said it continued through his freshman year.
"I just kind of stopped trying," he said.
Penn said he wasn't failing classes but was not trying to do more than the bare minimum. He did not like a magnet program at a different school. According to Penn, the school and family pressures made him cave.
"My brother, he's in prison," he said. "I can see why my father doesn't want me to kind of fall into this slump because he was succeeding for the most part, until the end where he fell into the wrong crowd."
Still, his mother yanked her son's extracurricular activities. The expectation was for him to perform academically.
A move to Sam Houston High School got Penn going again, and the engineer-minded student got wired to the school's robotics.
"It awakened a motivation back again," he said. "Gave me something to strive for."
Did it ever. Penn started joining everything. His list includes P-Tech, Cyber Patriots, ESports, ROTC, Color Guard, soccer, football, track and golf.
Soccer Coach Aaron Yates loves having Penn on his team, and he calls him a dream athlete. But Penn's commitment did come under question.
"I was aggravated the first time he told me I got to go to robotics the next day," Yates said. "I got to go to ROTC the next. I got to go to drill. I got to go to it. When are you going to make time for soccer?"
Yates said Penn proved he could handle a schedule that most can't.
"He has 20 different things, pulling him 20 different ways, and he's still able to manage to keep up with the team," Yates said.
Retired Lt. Col. John Sensley needed help with a CyberDrum for the school. His next in command said, "You need Jordan."
"He helped me work through an engineering problem that I was either too stupid or I just couldn't figure out what was going on," Sensly said. "And he helped me figure out an engineering problem like that."
The drum and a remote control trailer are for parades and building school pride. The gadgets also started to build a bond between Sensly and Penn.
"When you talk about in sports, you've got a franchise quarterback," Sensly said, "So for me, Jordan is that franchise quarterback that I'm going to build a team around."
According to Sensly, he sees a bit of himself in Penn. The junior is captain of the JROTC robotics team and co-captain of the school robotics team.
Penn also finds time to hold down a job. His secret is getting school work done during school. But the teen is still working on becoming better organized and managing time better.