Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington is starting from scratch.
An 11-year veteran, the NFL Legend is not only the new head football coach at the Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky; he’s also facing the challenge of being the architect of a program which has been dormant for over 40 years. Their first home game is Monday, August 20.
He and his wife, Robin, became familiar with Sayre when they began considering which high school their sons; Cole, Luke and Gage would eventually attend. Cole, the oldest, will be a freshman this fall.
“I really loved what Sayre offered except they didn’t have football,” Pennington said. “I brought up the idea to the school about the thought of reinstituting the football program and we just started those conversations. I started with the head basketball coach, Rob Goodman, as well as the athletic director, Rich Little. And then once those conversations got a little bit more serious, we presented the idea to the head master, and then to the board.
“I feel that football has a unique ability to make a school stronger, to create more community spirit and fellowship. And I love using football as a platform to help develop a young man. I think the game of football presents some challenges for young men that can really help them be successful later on.
“My dad was a high school football coach for 30 years and so we come from a football family. My high school student-athlete experience was phenomenal and I’d love for other student-athletes to have a similar type of experience.”
Pennington has experienced huge support from the school board and the parents, whom he met with in April to discuss his goals for the upstart program.
“One of the unique things in our school is that student-athletes play multiple sports. And in a society now of sports specialization, I think we can be a pioneer in promoting multiple-sport participation in high school,” Pennington said.
“Ninety-one percent of the first-round draft picks in the NFL were multiple-sport athletes in high school. And I think we’re selling a false dream when it comes to sports specialization and doing our kids a disservice by not promoting that.
“I don’t know where I’ll be without my high school basketball experience. If I was forced to choose when I was younger, I would have chose basketball because it was my first love. But having time to figure that out showed me that football allowed me to compete at a high level.”
Sayre, the smallest high school in Lexington and the 64th-smallest school in Kentucky, had an enrollment of 259 students this past school year, 137 of which were male. It plans to field freshman and junior-varsity teams this fall in its inaugural season and will eventually compete on the varsity level.
“Our biggest challenge will be creating trust and confidence with our faculty and our parents. And that will come through time in allowing them to see how our staff operates, how we approach this game and how we use this platform. When they see that, we will certainly have more buy-in,” Pennington said.
“With our parents; health and safety is a concern and it should be. And so our goal is to create as much awareness as we can to keep our communication and conversations going. But also being proactive in the new school of thought centered around football.”
Pennington, “perfect at being part-time,” is the Co-Executive Director of NFL Legends, a corporate speaker, an investor and a volunteer youth sports coach. He’s looking forward to the next challenge – Sayre’s football coach.
“What excites me the most is being involved in the development of a young student-athlete,” says Pennington, “and using the academic classroom and the athletic arena as compliments to each other in developing the most well-rounded student-athlete I can be a part of developing.
“To where those two entities create the mental toughness that is needed to succeed as a young man, creates resiliency, accountability, teamwork, all these great attributes that I know that our young men need to be successful. And I really see it as a partnership between our parents, our faculty and our administration in doing that.
“I don’t see their athletic accomplishments as the end goal because for all of us, the ball stops spinning and we live our lives after our athletic endeavors are over. So, it’s what the games can do for us beyond the field that to me is most important in preparing us for life.”