Eisenhower head football coach Jim Penley was born to coach.
He's going places that no Warren County player or coach has gone in nearly 30 years. Penley was recently asked to serve as the defensive line coach for the Pennsylvania team at the prestigious Big 33 Football Classic scheduled for June 16 in Hershey.
The Big 33 game is an elite all-star game featuring the top high-school football players in Pennsylvania. Played since 1957, the game is often described as the "Super Bowl of High School Football." The last 14 contests have pitted players from Pennsylvania against players from Ohio, but opponents in the past have also included players from Maryland and Texas. The 55th version of the game will be broadcast on local TV - the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) and the NFL Network.
Times Observer file photo
Eisenhower High School head football coach Jim Penley, at left
Penley will be the first person to represent Eisenhower at the event, and only the fifth known player or coach from Warren County.
"This is one of the biggest honors I as a high school coach can receive from my football coaching peers in this state," said Penley. "I am very excited to represent my family, team, players and school community as the first Eisenhower person to ever be invited to participate in this event."
A player or coach from Warren County has not been involved in the game since 1984 when Greg Latimer participated as a player. In 1983, former Youngsville and Warren coach Jeff Flickner participated as a player and, in 1982, Mike Phelps was a Pennsylvania player and John "Toby" Shea a coach.
"It's been a long time since anybody from around here has participated in this game," said Penley. "I'm extremely proud and incredibly humbled to have this opportunity."
The game boasts the absolute best of the best talent across the state of Pennsylvania. Some of the game's most well-known alumni include Tony Dorsett, Matt Millen, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. More recently, the game has featured Marvin Harrison, Curtis Martin, Ben Roethlisberger (the game's grand marshall for 2012), Darrelle Revis and Bob Sanders.
Just looking at past players that have participated in the game is enough to let Penley know how special this opportunity is.
"I've always kind of hoped to be able to do something like this," said Penley. "It's been a while since I've been able to coach kids with this type of talent and athleticism. The entire roster is legitimate Division I talent. I will be coaching recruits signed to Penn State, Pittsburgh, Toledo and others. I watch this game every year and the talent level is amazing. Having the chance to coach players that could one day play in the NFL is very exciting."
Penley was added to the coaching staff after Cathedral Prep head coach Mike Mischler had to back out for personal reasons. Not long after, Penley was contacted by Corry head coach Homer DeLattre, and asked if he was interested in making the commitment.
Penley jumped at the chance.
However, he was well aware that this would be anything but a vacation.
"You have to devote every second of your time to the job," said Penley. "There are several practices to attend, but also a variety of other commitments. I was told I would not have one free moment the entire week (beginning Sunday, June 10), but I would have a great time, meet some people in the game I never thought I'd meet, and create memories that I will remember the rest of my life."
Perhaps even more than the memories and the chance to coach players of NFL caliber, Penley - the head coach at Eisenhower since 2004 where he has compiled a 34-46 record - is proud of the opportunity to put his small Class A school on the map.
"For me, I'm just proud of how we've done things at Eisenhower," he said. "We're something like the sixth smallest Class A school in District 10 and we've always been competitive. My staff and my players have worked terribly hard and it's special to see that's being noticed. It goes to show that hard work pays off and I'm so excited to represent this community in such a special game."
Media Day in State College is scheduled for Sunday, May 20.