CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s games like this that Derek Pennington envisioned himself coaching in when he took the head coaching job at Caledonia High School.
Following a 45-22 victory over West Ottawa in Week 6, the Caledonia Fighting Scots are 6-0 heading into a clash with powerhouse Rockford (6-0) on the road at 7 p.m. this Friday.
The undefeated start is already a great mark for the first-year head coach. But now, the competition will be as high as it has been all season.
Pennington can’t wait to be on the sidelines for it, though this isn’t his first time around the block.
“When you’ve done this for as long as me, you try to look at it like just another football game,” Pennington said. “But yeah, our kids are ready for it, obviously it’s a big game. I’ve taken kids to Hackley in Muskegon, we’ve played at Mona Shores.
“But this is why I’m here, to put this team in a position to be in games like this one.”
Of course, success is nothing new for the longtime high school coach.
Before taking the new venture to lead the Fighting Scots, Pennington had a successful 13-year career at Zeeland East. Since 2008, he had guided the Zeeland East Chix to an 88-43 record up to the end of the 2020 season, which ended in a game canceled due to COVID-19 in the Division 3 playoff opener. During that same tenure, Pennington achieved two district titles and one regional crown.
His final game coached at Zeeland East was his 100th victory at the high school level, capping a 4-2 shortened season in 2020.
However, when Tom Burrill ended his 20-year tenure with Caledonia, on Dec. 28, 2020, Pennington announced he would be taking over that job after a conversation with athletic director Fred Townsend.
The two minds clicked on what they wanted the football program to look like.
The memories still stick with Pennington from his time with the Chix, but coming to Caledonia was an easy decision.
“When Fred and I got done with sharing our interests with football, it quickly turned me into being the head coach here,” Pennington said. “It’s been a great move for me and my family.”
So far this season, Pennington seems to have Caledonia moving in the right direction.
The Fighting Scots have won all six games on their schedule by double figures. Defensively, they are allowing an average of just 12 points per game and offensively have scored 35 or more points in five of Caledonia’s six contests.
Caledonia quarterback Mason McKenzie said the coaching style Pennington brings has made a huge difference in the results on the field.
“It’s a lot more relaxed out here compared to last year,” McKenzie said. “We’re always ready to go for any game we are a part of and he keeps us focused.”
Rockford, however, has also shown that this could be one of its best teams in recent memory.
They defeated Sterling Heights 44-30 to open the season, defeated Grandville 53-46 in double overtime and have won the remainder of their games by double digits.
Since taking over for Rockford icon Ralph Munger, Brent Cummings led his team to the regional finals last season and is undefeated so far in 2021.
Cummings said he expects a great challenge from the group at Caledonia coached by Pennington.
“They’re a well-coached team and this should be a good one between two teams that know how to win,” Cummings said. “We have to be ready and keep the home crowd into it right away.”
For Pennington, this is a chance for a statement win in year one with Caledonia.
Traveling on the road to the Rockford Rams’ newly renovated stadium will not be an easy place to play; it should be packed and loud.
These are opportunities Pennington has waited for when he took the job just under a year ago.
His guys are ready.
“There’s a reason they are 6-0,” Pennington said. “There’s a lot of challenges when you go to Rockford. We’re taking the approach that we won’t be intimidated, our philosophy from the beginning of the year is never daunted.
“Our kids believe in it.”