GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Indeed, just as the Gallia Academy community is also, Alex Penrod is excited to be back in Blue.
However, he is most eager about restoring the outstanding tradition that is Blue Devil football.
That’s because Penrod, a Gallia County resident and former Blue Devil assistant, has been hired as the new Gallia Academy High School head football coach.
Penrod, a Logan High School and University of Rio Grande graduate and most recently the three-year head coach at Alexander, takes over a Blue Devil program that has fallen on hard times — posting back-to-back 1-9 campaigns.
He was officially hired in a unanimous vote of the Gallipolis City Schools Board of Education at Wednesday night’s regular monthly meeting.
Penrod replaces Josh Riffe, whose contract was non-renewed after three seasons at GAHS.
“I’m very honored to have been chosen for this position and I look forward to restoring the great tradition here,” said Penrod.
Penrod has been a resident of the Gallia Academy school district for the last 11 years, when he got his start in coaching for then-GAHS head coach Matt Bokovitz.
He said he contacted Bokovitz, who gave him an opportunity — which turned into a love affair with the Gallia Academy community.
Not to mention, he married a GAHS alumnus, and has a 17-month-old daughter that “will graduate from Gallia Academy.”
“I wanted to get into not only the game of football, but also coaching and teaching football. Coach (Matt) Bokovitz let me come in and see how things were run,” said Penrod. “Fortunately, we had solid staff members around some exceptional talent. I fell in love with the town and what the community of Gallipolis and Gallia Academy has given me.”
He coached with Bokovitz for three years, before serving on Mike Eddy’s staff for four years — and Wade Bartholomew’s for the 2013 season.
In Eddy’s final season (2012), the Blue Devils captured their final Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship and state playoff berth.
Penrod was then hired at Alexander, where he went an even 16-16 in three years, but the 2015 season was one of historic proportion for the Spartans.
Alexander went 9-1 in the regular season, part of a school-best 10-2 overall, and won its first-ever Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division championship.
In addition, the Spartans posted their first-ever state playoff victory in three tries — in their first-ever home playoff game.
Penrod, per the Associated Press, was chosen as one of three Southeast District Division V Coaches of the Year.
However, when the Gallia Academy position opened up, there was widespread speculation that Penrod would apply — which he did.
Gallipolis City Schools Superintendent Roger Mace and Gallia Academy Athletic Director Adam Clark said there were 26 original applicants, which were eventually narrowed down to six — before a pair of finalists.
A hiring committee which included Clark ultimately picked Penrod, who was arguably the community’s preferred choice.
“We feel Coach Penrod is the right person to get us not only back on track, but take us to the next level,” said Clark.
Penrod, 10 days ago, informed Alexander that he was “coming home” — by accepting the Gallia Academy job.
He said he accepted the Blue Devil offer without hesitation, and was quickly contacting potential assistant coaches.
“It doesn’t matter who the head coach is. The most important thing is the staff you can put around yourself,” said Penrod. “I’m very excited about the experienced guys we’re going to have on staff, but also the young guys that are Blue Devil alumni that can help mold the tradition that is this 2017 football team.”
Penrod said he planned to formally meet with his 2017 squad on Friday (March 17).
As for his general football philosophy, he prefers a spread-power attack — along with a fast-paced style of defense.
“You are always going to want to put the best guys on the field. We’re going to be a spread-power football team. We want to try to get as many offensive snaps as we can, but we also want to do what’s best for us. I think we have the personnel to do exactly what we want to do on the offensive side of the ball, and that is put the ball in the hands of the playmakers that we do have,” he said. “There is not going to be just one or two names with all the throws or all the carries. There is going to be a lot of different young athletes that are going to be involved in the game. We want defenses to stay honest and be up-tempo. Then defensively, I think we can be big and physical up front, and eliminate some two-way positions. It also comes down to the strength of our linebackers and being able to read our gaps and our assignments and get to the football.”
But Penrod also acknowledged that there is a lot of building back to be done with the current state of the program.
“I think it just comes back to belief and passion,” he said.”I think the fans still believed in the students and football players, but it gets hard when you continually see loss after loss and back-to-back 1-9 seasons. It’s just building that pride back into the community and the school every single day.”
Although, with Penrod now leading the way, the prevailing thought is that will indeed happen — and even rather quickly.
“I’m not going to predict wins or losses, but I can guarantee that these kids buy into our system and our philosophy and every day they have the goal in mind to get better. We’re going to get better, and you’re going to see positive results on Friday nights,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead to do, but I’m excited about being a Blue Devil once again.”
The BOE also hired Cory Camden as the new Gallia Academy head soccer coach at Wednesday night’s March meeting.
Camden replaces Richard Isberner, who led the Blue Devils to this past season’s Ohio Valley Conference championship — and back-to-back Division II sectional titles.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106