New coach Penson promoting rich tradition of Willowridge football
One of the first things Kendron Penson did after he was hired as Willowridge’s football coach earlier this month was retrieve pictures from a cabinet.
The pictures were of All-Americans who had played at Willowridge. Thurman Thomas. Grady Cavness. William Shankle. Charles Arbuckle. On and on. They were the same pictures that hung on the fieldhouse walls when Penson played left tackle for the Eagles in the mid-90’s.
“These kids now probably don’t understand or know about the dominant Willowridge tradition that we have here,” said Penson, referring to a program that won the 1982 Class 4A state championship and counts former NFL players like Thomas and Arbuckle, among others, as alumni. “You had to be here to understand that. When I was here, we walked in and the first thing I saw were All-Americans who came through and paved the way. We’d lift weights and we’d see their pictures on the walls. When they came back to the school, the first thing they would do is go and look at their picture. It meant something to them.
“First thing I did was put them back up. Bringing back that tradition. Hopefully, they’ll come back.”
In taking over at his alma mater, Penson, Class of 1995, is glorifying the past.
Edgar Glover, the late great former Willowridge principal, preached class and character when Penson was a student-athlete roaming the halls. Penson is adamant about bringing those traits onto the football field.
“Class,” meaning the best of its kind. “Character,” meaning being who you are, no matter where you are.
Penson holds “character lessons” on Wednesdays for his players. He plans to have former Eagle greats as guests to speak to the kids about class and character.
“It’s a way of life here,” Penson said.
Willowridge is Penson’s first head coaching job. He succeeds Ramon Chinyoung, who left after two seasons to take an assistant offensive coaching job with the Denver Broncos.
Penson, who played collegiately at Alabama State, has been coaching for 20 years, including stints at Fort Bend Marshall, Elkins, Chavez and, most recently, as assistant head coach/offensive line coach/run game coordinator at Hightower.
“It’s a dream come true,” Penson said. “Being here with some of my peers I’ve known throughout the years and being able to help my community, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Penson has been busy going to McAuliffe Middle School to boost the numbers in his program. Recruiting his kind of guys, Penson said.
What is his type of guy?
“First, he’s a student-athlete with great charisma,” Penson said. “He has to be a controlled soldier. That’s what we want. When it’s time for battle, he’s on and he’s ready to go. He’s fearless. But once that clock hits zeroes, he’s back to that student-athlete. Controlled aggression, controlled soldier.”
Penson will bring a spread offense, having learned it under Dennis Brantley at Elkins.
“We have the bodies for it,” Penson said. “We have good receivers coming back, a good running back. Offensive line should be pretty good. But my scheme fits what they need around them.”
A considerable boon will be Penson’s son, Kendron Jr.
Kendron Jr. was a standout sophomore quarterback in leading Hightower to the regional finals last season. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,488 yards and 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions, while rushing for 257 yards and six more touchdowns.
Penson said it was his son’s decision whether to stay at Hightower or come to Willowridge.
“He was a varsity football player and varsity baseball player over there, and he gave that up to come play for his pops,” Penson said. “I love that. The experience last year made him a great leader. Now he can show these guys over here how to win and the ways of excellence. We have some great kids here. It only makes them better because he’s been there before. These guys haven’t been to the fourth round, but we plan on being there.”