From Football to Father: Alex Penrod

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It’s 2013 and football season is about to begin in Albany, Ohio. Before the whistle blows for a summer filled with two-a-day practices, the Alexander Spartans gather in the school library for an all-team meeting. Among the players is quarterback Taylor Kimbrough, 18, who sits and waits patiently to meet his brand new head coach.

As Kimbrough chats back and forth with his teammates, the door swings open, and in walks their new leader. The players fall silent as Alex Penrod, 32, paces toward them. The only sound in the room comes from the rhythmic thumping of Penrod’s footsteps. Standing in front of the crowd at just over six feet tall, he tosses a football between his hands, clutching the rough leather and jagged laces. He introduces himself, motivating the athletes that he will help change the direction of the program.

“First things first,” Penrod bellows while passing around small slips of paper. “I want each of you young men to write down your favorite memories of playing football.”

Approaching Kimbrough, Penrod notices a blank sheet of paper. Kimbrough explains that after being on a team which had won two games in its last three seasons, he could not remember any positive moments. Penrod looks him directly in the eyes and says, “I’m going to change that.”

Now, flash forward two years to 2015, where the Spartans are hoisting the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio championship trophy. Penrod’s changes to the team, on and off the field, have transformed a struggling unit into a nearly unstoppable force.

Following a 35-26 win against Meigs to close out a 9-1 regular season finish, many can’t see his excitement for the game behind the sunglasses he insists on wearing, even during night games. Nevertheless, behind those darkened shades, Penrod was always very confident that his team would reach this milestone.

“I saw the previous videos,” Penrod said. “I saw that they had talent, but I wanted to change the culture to a winning mentality. Success has come, but it hasn’t been easy. There have been a lot of sacrifices all over, from my staff, my players and my wife at home.”

After meeting his wife Jodie, 33, nearly two years ago, she has proven to be his greatest support system at home. Through the countless hours of watching game film and preparing for his next opponent, Penrod utilizes all the help he can get, including Jodie’s input.

“We have our game rundowns when he gets home on Friday nights,” Jodie said. “I don’t know a ton about football, but I give my analysis. We usually agree on everything.”

For Penrod, the adjustments are not limited to the gridiron. In addition to establishing a winning program so quickly, his family life continued to leap forward rapidly.

On Sept. 15, the Penrods added one more to their team with the arrival of their first-born daughter Jemma Kathryn Penrod. The second-year head coach now faces a completely different set of challenges at home.

“After ten years of coaching, every day seems the same,” Penrod noted. “Having a daughter changes things. People tell you about being a father, but you don’t really understand until you get to experience it. It’s been different and a blessing to come home to.”

Both Alex and Jodie gushed over being new parents. On Friday nights, Jodie dresses Jemma in her Alexander Spartans onesie and even puts a red bow in her hair.

“It’s a life-changing moment to have a child,” Jodie said. “It’s a love that you never thought that you could have. I’ve been a little sleep-deprived, but so far, it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Jemma arrived slightly earlier than expected, weighing four pounds, 15 ounces and measuring 17 inches on her birthday. The Penrods would have to wait one week before they could bring her home. It also meant Alex had to wait a week to introduce what “home” was all about.

To Penrod, home is the place where his two dogs bark the moment he steps on the front porch, and the place he can trade in his ball cap and headset for a pair of flip-flops.

It’s also the spot where he can look back on how he got to this point. Before becoming a champion or a parent, football has always been a focal point in his life.

Prior to landing his job in Albany, Penrod built a strong résumé with his long list of football experience. He attended Logan High School, driving the team to a 10-1 record as the team’s starting quarterback and a team captain during his senior season. His 1,030 passing yards were good enough to help his team secure a playoff berth.

Following his playing days, Penrod chose to pursue his career as a coach. He spent eight of his ten years coaching as a defensive coordinator at Gallia Academy. A handful of schools passed on Penrod’s bid for a head-coaching position.

These days, Penrod is the kind of coach who brings his work home with him. Each week, he invites his entire coaching staff into his living room to prepare for another week of action. Bringing out the whiteboard, Penrod and his staff are constantly tweaking the game plan to improve on the past week’s performance.

These meetings provide the balance that Penrod aims for as a coach and a father. His day-to-day responsibilities are no longer what they used to be, but Penrod is determined to excel on the field and at home.

“I work about two or three hours per day as a head coach,” Penrod said. “Then, I come home and hand the whistle over to my wife and she becomes the head coach. She gets to be the one that orders me around, and I get a taste of how my players feel.”

Since Jemma’s addition to the couple, Jodie understands the alterations in her husband’s lifestyle more than anyone.

“I always say that there’s the Alex at home and then there’s the ‘Coach Penrod’,” Jodie said jokingly. “He’s a very quiet, sarcastic guy at home, but ‘Coach Penrod’ is a completely different character. I like both sides of him.”

Penrod Teaser feature for story

At times, both sides of Penrod have trouble juggling being a parent. Like many others adjusting to life with a newborn, he explains there are plenty of sleepless nights in Gallipolis.

“I think my wife will disagree and say that I get more sleep than I should,” Penrod chuckled. “I try to do what I can, and once the season is over, I’ll be much better at home.”

Being a head coach can cause many restless nights in itself, and having an unstable sleeping schedule can really add up. Even Penrod’s players are starting to take notice of his fatigue.

“I think he’s definitely a little more tired,” Kimbrough laughed, detailing the similarities with his own parents when they had his younger sibling. “But he’s in good spirits. I think the baby is making him act like a child again.”

Despite the trials Penrod is facing, many in the community continue to step forward in support of his family. He recalled one moment in particular, just another day at the office. A few short days following the announcement of baby Jemma, Penrod casually strolled toward his office to get ready for practice. Upon opening the door, he was overcome with shock to find it stocked high with hundreds of diapers. After the confrontation that ensued, he teased that they would be put to good use.

Just as others can see the way Jemma has changed his demeanor, Penrod finds himself noticing all of her small differences in the last seven weeks.

“I see the growth and change in my daughter every day,” Penrod beamed. “She is always picking up something new, and it really brings a spark to my life.”

Although she remains too young to attend her father’s games, Jemma’s influence can be found when the Spartans take the field. As soon as Penrod knew he was a father, he had a plan. He illustrated that for each week of the season, he attempts to put in something new into the playbook to keep opponents on their toes. As a result, Alexander’s coaching staff created a specific play named after Jemma.

Nobody enjoys a trick play more than those who get to run it out on the field. However, at first, most of the team did not know why the addition was so important.

“We found out about the play as we were reading through our routine scouting report,” Kimbrough said. “I saw the play ‘Jemma’ and had no idea what it was. Once we found out it was the baby’s name, I knew we had to find a way to score a touchdown for her.”

Throughout his coaching tenure, Penrod has come up with dozens of new schemes, but reveals that this one meant more than all of the rest.

“If something special comes from that play, then everyone will know it’s named after her,” Penrod said. He noted the team has run it once before and is always ready to deploy it again.

Accepting the head coaching job at Alexander began a series of events that impacted many different lives, from Penrod’s own family to each player on his roster. However, in two short years, he is viewed as much more than an ordinary high school football coach.

“On the field, he’s strictly our coach,” Kimbrough said. “He’s hard on us and he makes us work. But off the field, you can tell he sincerely cares about us as individuals. He treats us as if we are his own kids. He’s been a father ever since he took this job.”

Receiving that type of support from a young athlete is the highest form of praise for which he could ever ask.

“It’s very touching,” Penrod said. “If my players didn’t think that, then I probably wouldn’t be doing my job right. Hopefully they can take each positive from this year and keep it for the rest of their lives.”

Kimbrough now has the means to describe his favorite memories of playing high school football. The senior had his best season of his career to go along with the bragging rights to a conference crown and a trip to the postseason, not to mention a life-long connection with his head coach.

As for Penrod, he has done what all coaches wish they could: rejuvenate a program all the way to the top.

Over the last several months, Penrod confessed that he has learned to enjoy the moment, whether it be on the football field or at home with his family. He knows his work will remain unfinished, so long as his team remains in the playoffs, and plans to approach every new challenge with the same passion he has to the Alexander Spartans.