The Bulloch Academy football program has been on the verge of making a big splash in the state tournament over the last few seasons.
Come this fall, they’ll have the extra help of one of the state’s most accomplished head coaches.
Steve Pennington - who last coached two years ago at Southeast Bulloch before entering into a presumed retirement - was announced to Gator players Tuesday morning as their new head coach.
“With the progress the team has made in the last few years and the growth that is going on at our school, there was no shortage of interest when we began the search for a new coach,” BA athletic director Pat Collins said. “In the end, our search narrowed it down to five candidates and one rose to the top. And that’s Steve Pennington.”
Collins was hiring his own replacement as he stepped aside from head coaching duties due to other responsibilities as athletic director and the school’s director of development. Ironically, this will be the second time Pennington succeeds Collins.
Pennington served as head coach of Statesboro High from 2004-2016, winning four region titles and a state championship along the way. Following his tenure at SHS, Pennington joined Collins’ staff at Southeast Bulloch and took on the head coaching role when Collins left for Bulloch Academy prior to the 2017 season. Pennington led SEB to a state playoff appearance in that season and then entered into retirement, only to jump back into the game once more with the Gators.
“Over the last two years, I’ve had some quiet time to reflect,” Pennington said. “I know that there’s still a passion within me to coach and to teach.”
Collins praised Pennington as a stellar communicator and man of great integrity as he introduced his former players to their new coach. Both Collins and Pennington have been staples in southeast Georgia football, combining for a total of 59 seasons of head coaching and a 302-235-5 record.
“It was a little strange having to check out his credentials as we’re so familiar with each other,” Collins joked. “But everyone I heard from said the same thing. Steve Pennington is a great coach, a great leader and a man of great integrity. That’s what I hope we’ve been coaching into our team already and something that I know will continue under his leadership.”
Pennington spent his first moments with his new team emphasizing that they listen to and consider his message rather than taking his previous success as clout to be influenced by. He spoke of watching film of last year’s BA team and highlighted some instances where he saw the drive and effort that he wants to see from the entire team moving forward.
“It’s about making sure you’re doing your best on the field, in the classroom and in life,” Pennington said. “It’s not always easy, but you don’t pay for the work you put in. You pay the price for every time you don’t do the work.”
Pennington has never shied away from an opponent on the field, but will face a new challenge on his own roster this fall. At Statesboro, Pennington routinely had upwards of 100 players on his varsity and JV teams. At Southeast Bulloch, he had a roster of nearly 70.
This fall, he’ll command a Gator squad that usually sits around 40.
“Well, it will be something I have to consider,” Pennington said. “Then again, I’ve been around for a while. I got my start at a single-A school (Louisville) way back when. We dealt with smaller rosters back then. I’m sure I might have to reflect back to remember what was successful, but I also know that we have a good number of returning starters and rising seniors who will help to lead us into the new season.”
Bulloch Academy will host a meet-and-greet for boosters and families of players on Monday where Pennington will once again address the crowd.