MERCERVILLE, Ohio — Indeed, the South Gallia High School football sidelines will really feel different this year.
That’s because, for the first time in almost two full decades, Jason Peck will not be occupying them.
After 17 seasons of involvement with South Gallia football, including the past seven as head coach, Peck has resigned that position — having accepted the job of defensive coordinator at Hocking College.
In an interview on Thursday, Peck said the time to make this move was just right — and the opportunity ahead was just too much to pass up.
“It’s hard to leave and it’s sad to leave, but this was just simply an opportunity at the right time for me and something I had to do,” said Peck.
Thus, after seven seasons as head coach, Peck steps down with a 33-39 record, including two Division VII state playoff appearances in 2011 and 2015.
The Rebels of six years ago posted a 7-4 mark, as the 2013 and 2015 clubs went 6-4 in the regular season.
Actually, he has been part of all four Rebel playoff berths, having served as defensive coordinator to Justy Burleson for seven seasons — prior to taking over when Burleson left for Vinton County.
Burleson’s Rebels reached the postseason in back-to-back years of 2005 and 2006.
Peck spent three years as an assistant to Donnie Saunders, as South Gallia High School has only been open for 20.
Before his time at SGHS, he was at Southwestern High School, which consolidated and became a Rebel feeder.
“We hate to see him go, we’re going to miss him, but we’re really proud at South Gallia to see him have an opportunity to coach at the college level,” said SGHS Athletic Director Jacob Attar. “In athletics, that doesn’t happen very much. He’s had a lot of success for a small Division VII program. He is a great coach and a great guy and he leaves here on great terms. Once a Rebel, always a Rebel. This is an opportunity for him and a great move for him, so we are happy for him. I consider him a friend and am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to work with him.”
Attar is completing his second year as athletic director —and his fourth as assistant principal.
Hocking College is a Junior College program, and a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
The upcoming campaign will be the Hawks’ third.
Peck’s new boss will be Adolphus Matthews, as Hocking College is located near Nelsonville.
“I met the head football coach and athletic director Coach Matthews up there. I’ve always had a goal of trying to move up to the next level (of coaching). Hocking College is really doing big things right now and I want to be a part of what Coach Matthews has going on,” said Peck. “So I think the time was right and it was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up right now.”
The timing, however, isn’t ideal for South Gallia.
But Peck maintains he has helped prospective players keep up their offseason activities, which Attar explained as well.
“The weight program is still going, the kids are still motivated and I’m still working with them. I think everyone understands this is an opportunity that I had to go ahead and jump on when I could,” said Peck. “South Gallia is going to be fine with the administration and leadership that they have and the kids they have.”
“He (Peck) is an excellent role model who works so well with kids, both on the field and off the field behind the scenes,” said Attar. “He is still going to be involved in the program until the new head coach is hired. He has been involved here at South Gallia for all but three years of the school’s existence. That’s a long time. Going to be big shoes to fill.”
Naturally, over the course of 17 years, there were plenty of memorable moments for Peck.
However, he said none was more memorable than any other.
“Every moment and every team at South Gallia was special,” said Peck. “We made the playoffs four times in 11 years, we had some teams go 7-3 with a hectic schedule. We’ve played regional champions, we’ve played state champions, we’ve played state runners-up. It’s pretty phenomenal the teams we’ve played and how we competed with some of those teams. Our kids just bought into everything we’ve always tried to do and went and battled every week. No matter if we had nine freshmen or nine seniors on the field. No team was more special than the others. Some might accomplish more in terms of wins or losses, but work ethic and character, I can’t pick one over the other.”
Next season’s squad returns all but seven seniors, and comes off a 3-7 campaign — in which the Rebels fell to five teams that were ranked ninth or higher in Region 27.
“These kids are so much stronger, so much faster, so much bigger, so much more skilled, and they definitely have the ability to shake up the league (Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division),” said Peck. “I’m very proud of the way they worked this offseason and I wish them the best of luck.”
As for the Rebels’ next head coach, some interviews were scheduled for Friday (May 19), as Attar intends to have a head coach chosen by Memorial Day.
Attar also said a farewell event for Peck will be scheduled.
In offering numerous and countless thank-yous, Peck was most grateful for the support he has received.
“The culture at South Gallia has been very fun to be a part of and help build,” he said. “They’ll keep it going. I’m sure they will. Whomever they hire as the next head coach has a special community that will back him and all kinds of support. It’s a great place to be.”
Although, indeed, the Rebel sidelines will have a different feel for this fall.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106