West Virginia State’s football team has achieved goals it hasn’t in decades, but coach John Pennington doesn’t think the Yellow Jackets have finished climbing. Neither does the university, which wants Pennington to stick around a while longer.
WVSU announced Wednesday that Pennington agreed to a three-year extension as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach.
“It feels incredible,” Pennington said. “It’s truly a blessing. I’m literally living my dream every day. And to be able to get three more years to do it is just an awesome opportunity.”
State went 7-4 last season, its third straight winning season in Pennington’s three years as head coach. That marks the first time WVSU has enjoyed three straight winning seasons since Oree Banks coached the Yellow Jackets to three in a row from 1978-80.
Last season under Pennington, the Yellow Jackets played for a share of the MEC title against Notre Dame in the season finale. They spent three weeks in 2019 ranked in the top 10 of Super Region One and won seven conference games for the first time in program history.
“In only three years, John has elevated WVSU football to one of the best programs in the Mountain East Conference,” WVSU athletic director Nate Burton said in a university release. “I am confident that he will continue to lead our program to new heights.”
Pennington, a former standout at George Washington High who played at West Virginia University, appreciates the support he has received from the start from Burton, WVSU President Anthony Jenkins and the rest of the university administration. He knew even before he was elevated to the program’s top job that he was working for people who shared his vision and ideals.
“You don’t find that very often,” Pennington said. “I know that. I’m so grateful to be here, and when you’re able to work with people who get it and are great to work with, that makes a huge difference.”
Pennington — who was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2017 following former coach Jon Anderson’s departure to the University of Sioux Falls — made an impact in his first season at the helm. State’s 6-5 record was the school’s first winning record since 2008. The Yellow Jackets matched that 6-5 record in 2018, marking the first time since 2007-08 that State had consecutive winning seasons.
WVSU started last season at 5-1, going undefeated in that span against Division II teams. The team finished 12th nationally in averaging 295.3 passing yards per game and State quarterback Austin Hensley finished 10th nationally averaging 281.4 yards per game.
The Yellow Jackets aren’t done growing, Pennington said. He’d like to see artificial turf installed at Lakin Field. He wants his team’s grade-point average to hit 3.0. Overall, he wants to keep building a football program of which the university can be proud.
“I’m more excited than ever to build an elite culture,” he said. “That’s ultimately what I’m passionate about, to build a culture that develops men into leaders.”