The search to fill the Ironton Fighting Tigers’ head coaching position took longer than expected to fill.
But at the end of the day, the search targeted, and ultimately, connected on, a fan favorite.
25-year old Trevon Pendleton, a former West High School and Michigan State football standout, and a player who had a brief stint with the Baltimore Ravens, was named as the newest head coach of the Ironton football program in a special board meeting that was held by the Ironton Board of Education on Tuesday evening. Pendleton was unanimously approved by Ironton’s Board of Education via a 5-0 vote.
For Pendleton, the move to become the next head football coach at Ironton represents a change from the West Senators’ football program — the very program that not only gave him the shot that he needed to star on Friday nights, but the place that gave Pendleton his first coaching opportunity.
However, the opportunities that he had at West are ones that he’ll never take for granted — especially considering that they are a part of the fabric that has made Pendleton into the player, and the man, that he is today.
“I’m very fortunate for my time at West,” Pendleton said. “I loved the kids there and would do anything for them. They’ll have a special place in my heart, and the West football program will always have a special place in my heart. However, the opportunity to take over a program like Ironton, and lead it in the direction that I want it to go in, where we can mold young men from the experience of playing football, is something that I look forward to doing and is something that I will take with a lot of pride.”
Pendleton, who was a three-time All-SOC, All-District, and All-State selection during his career with the Senators, which spanned from 2007 to 2010, and later became a three-year starter for Michigan State while obtaining 223 yards receiving and three scores on 13 catches at the fullback position, collected 96 tackles and ran for 1,474 yards on 144 carries as a junior at West, then was on place to improve those averages as a senior before a broken leg, suffered against Valley, knocked the senior out of football competition.
Even so, Pendleton still ran for 967 yards on 88 carries and made 77 stops on defense, which allowed the senior to take home 2010 Division IV All-Southeast District Player of the Year honors.
His football acumen, both as a player and, eventually, as a coach, however — was just getting started.
The former Senator eventually obtained a scholarship in 2013 after joining the program as a walk-on, and immediately contributed to a Michigan State squad as a three-year starter at fullback.
The Spartans ultimately accumulated a 36-5 record with Pendleton in the starting lineup, with his second-quarter catches in the 2014 Rose Bowl against Stanford (24-20) and in a 17-14 upset victory over No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus back in 2015 serving as pivotal moments for the program as head coach Mark Dantonio rose into one of the most well-respected coaches in the college football landscape.
After a short stint with the Ravens in 2016, the 25-year old served as an assistant coach on West’s head coaching staff for the 2017 campaign and oversaw a dramatic improvement in the Senators’ football program, as West improved from a 3-7 mark in 2016 to a 10-2 mark in 2017 — an improvement credited in large part to the work that Trevon and older brother Jerrod put in with guys such as Jacob Hall, Jakeb Guilkey, Caleb Deaver, and Brandon Weaver, among others in the offseason.
“I’ve always believed (that games are won and lost in the offseason),” Pendleton said. “As far as the kids (at West) crediting me, I credit them. They’re the ones who put in the work. I was just there to help them in any way that I can. In everything that we did, I just wanted to put pride into it, and in anything that I do, I put pride into it because I want to make sure that if it has my name on it, it’s something that I’m going to be proud of.”
Behind the efforts of those four and additional hands, including the play of Dylan Bradford, Josh Berry, and Garrett Hurd, the Senators won each of their first nine contests, and defeated Martins Ferry by a 10-6 margin in the first round of the playoffs, to finish the campaign with what stands among the 2002 and 2008 seasons as the best campaigns for the West football program over the last three decades.
“The kids are the ones that work,” Pendleton said. “The kids at West really pushed themselves hard last year. You get out of it what you put into it. I’m a firm believer of that message. The kids really showed that last year. Their effort, their attitude, and the approach that they took towards the game reflected that.”
With Ironton, Pendleton will have to establish a similar culture to turn around a program that has trended southward in recent seasons. Over the past five years, the Fighting Tigers have had two losing seasons (2013 and 2017), which has led to a uncharacteristic gloom-and-doom mindset among the Ironton faithful in regards to its football program.
And regardless of what the eventual coaching staff looks like, Pendleton — who plans to start the interview process for additional coaches “as soon as we can,” knows that he and his future staff will have to bridge gaps while implementing their visions for how the program will look going forward.
“It’s just about a culture change,” Pendleton said. “It’s about a mindset change with our kids, and we’ve got to all be on the same page moving forward. Me, the board, the adminstration, the coaching staff, and everyone else has to be on the same page. We’ve got to put the betterment of the kids first and get Ironton football, and the culture of Ironton as a whole, back to where it was.”
That starts, Pendleton says, by holding players accountable for their work both on and off of the gridiron.
“Winning football games is great, but more than anything, I want our kids to have positive memories about (playing football), and I want our kids to become good men, good husbands, good fathers, and good leaders,” Pendleton said. “Really, we just want to help develop kids into young men that their parents will be proud of, and who will be able to come back into the community and better it. I just want our kids to look at this experience as a very positive and impactful four-year period in their lives.”
Then, there’s the overall formations that Ironton will bring to the table. That, Pendleton says, will be based on what fits the players.
“I’ve been around multiple offensive and defensive styles and schemes,” Pendleton said. “We’re going to get in there and see how our personnel fits, first off, before we make any decisions. We’re going to run what our personnel dictates, and we’re going to try to put our players in the best positions to be successful and win football games.”
And that last point is something that Pendleton knows that Ironton fans want, and should expect, considering its past history.
“Ironton has a rich tradition, very rich,” Pendleton said. “Ironton is football. This is kind of where Southern Ohio’s football home is, in my opinion. This is one of the programs that everyone measures their success up to, along with a few additional local programs. It gauges how Southern Ohio football is. I’m just honored to be a part of it.”