Caledonia had a terrific finish to their 2020 season, as they won a pair of playoff games before falling in the district finals against Mona Shores. When the Fighting Scots return to action next fall, they will try to build off of that momentum, but under the direction of a new Head Coach.
Derek Pennington was tapped to lead the Fighting Scots earlier this week, becoming just the third head coach at Caledonia in the past quarter-century. Replacing the retiring Tom Burrill, Pennington comes over from Zeeland East, where he led a revitalization of the Chix program. In thirteen years at Zeeland East, they made the playoffs ten times, and he posted an 88-43 record. Prior to Pennington’s arrival, Zeeland East was 1-26 in the previous three seasons, with a playoff drought dating back to 1991.
The success that he had against some of the area’s best teams in the OK Green should prepare him for the OK Red this fall. He defeated perennial area strongholds such as Byron Center, Cedar Springs, East Grand Rapids, Mona Shores, Muskegon, Unity Christian and Zeeland West in his tenure at Zeeland East. Pennington posted a 4-1 record against OK Red teams in his time at Zeeland East (defeating East Kentwood in 2011, defeating Hudsonville in 2012, 2013 and 2015, and falling to Hudsonville in 2014).
There will be some schematic changes in Caledonia, as the days of the wishbone are no more. Coach Pennington’s offense will feature some new looks for Fighting Scots’ fans, as he will implement some spread offense concepts. “In my time at Zeeland East, we had years where our quarterback threw for 25 touchdowns in a season. Other seasons saw our team feature multiple 1,000-yard rushers, and we even had quarterbacks eclipse 1,800 rushing yards. We can take pieces of our system and employ the right plays to fit our personnel.” Pennington added that his ideal quarterback in his system is someone that is dual-threat, and that he will “play to the strength of the personnel within our program.”
A priority for Coach Pennington at this venture is to complete his coaching staff. He said that he hopes to accomplish that process in the near future. “Putting a coaching staff together is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. In order to win in the OK Red, you’re going to need a great coaching team. Since I am responsible for calling offensive plays, the biggest thing for me is securing some strong coaches on the defensive staff.”
COVID-19 has impacted the transition a bit, as the students have been out of the classroom, as well as the weight room. “The months of January through June are some of the most crucial in terms of development of strength and speed for players, so hopefully they will get the opportunity to return to training soon”. Pennington added that he also hopes to get the chance to hold some small-group workouts to spring to develop relationships with players on his team.
The biggest challenge to Pennington’s first season will be replacing All-State running back Carson Vanderhoff and other key players in the trenches, but the cupboard is not bare. Caledonia returns key skill players such as Brock Townsend, Jett King, Justice Reed, Mason Mckenzie, Nick Fox and Tyler Burd. The defense will be led by Aidan Kowatch, Ben Norris and Owen Graham. Up front, Caleb Paarlberg anchors the line of scrimmage.