Blue Devils reloading for another strong year


Photo’s by Kent Sanborn


GALLIPOLIS – Gallia Academy football is indeed back atop the mountain.

Now, comes the challenge of staying there.

Alex Penrod, in only his second season as Blue Devil head coach, completely changed the Gallia Academy culture – all the way to a 9-1 regular-season record, a conference championship and a Division IV state playoff appearance.

However, the Blue Devils did graduate several standouts – and so now the 40 Devils of this season – are tasked with sustaining similar success.

“It’s truly going from the hunter to the hunted. The senior class of last year faced an uphill battle their entire careers, and it was so rewarding to see all of their hard work and sacrifice and dedication pay off last year. These sophomores and freshmen on the team this year know nothing but winning football games, because they have won at the junior-high level on up,” said Penrod. “We’ve got some good experienced players coming back, especially along our lines, but we’ve got to replace some special skilled position players, so we’re a little younger there. There is a lot of excitement and school spirit and community pride around this program right now, so expectations are a little different, but if we can stay healthy, we are confident we can continue to build on what we’ve done the last two years.”

To know the Blue Devils’ promising present, and future, means recognizing their recent past.

Prior to Penrod’s arrival, Gallia Academy’s last league championship and playoff berth was as a member of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League in 2012, as the Blue Devils had hit hard times with back-to-back 1-9 campaigns in 2015 and 2016.

But those two lean years featured freshmen and sophomores in almost all spots, so they gained valuable experience despite taking their lumps.

After improving to 5-5 in Penrod’s first season, the Blue Devils’ dividends were finally paid off a year ago.

They rallied past Ironton en route to capturing their first Ohio Valley Conference championship – in only their third year in the league.

In fact, had it not been for a massive 17-play, 99-yard fourth-quarter drive by the Jackson Ironmen in early September, as host Jackson scored the game-winning touchdown with two minutes to play, the Blue would have experienced a perfect regular season.

For his part, Penrod captured not only the Division IV Southeast District Coach of the Year, but also the Ohio Division IV Coach of the Year.

He said, though, it meant more to him to see the success of his players.

“It was an incredible journey for that senior class to see where they had come from as freshmen and sophomores. They had experienced and knew nothing but defeat up until two years ago. But we, as coaches and players, flipped the switch, we instilled a brotherhood in one another and decided to came together to work harder and get better,” said Penrod. “We had some players that had been starting since they were freshmen or sophomores, but they started believing they could win. It was a very determined, very gritty group that was rightly rewarded with what they accomplished last year.”

Among those seniors were linebacker Jacob Campbell, the Southeast District Division IV Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-Ohioan, and Justin McClelland, the four-year starting quarterback who was first-team all-district and also all-state.

Other key graduation losses were running back Boo Pullins, wide receivers Cory Call and Cole Davis, and linemen Carter Campbell, Colton Russell, Logan Rose and Christian Mayse.

Pullins posted first-team all-district honors, and Call captured Honorable Mention.

Still, the Blue Devils do return a bevy of experience, so don’t assume the cupboard is any way at all bare.

The strength of the team is the offensive and defensive lines, which exhibit size and even height.

Three starters return on offense, anchored by senior tackle Riley Starnes,

Riley Starnes
Current Team
Gallia Academy
  a three-year starter who was an all-district first-teamer.

Starnes stands at six-feet five-inches tall and weighs 295 pounds, while junior right guard Yashua Peaks is 6-4 and 315.

Mason Angel, an Honorable Mention all-district selection, returns at left tackle and is a 6-2, 280-pound senior.

Starnes, fellow senior Zach Canaday (6-1, 245) and junior Jarrell Scott (6-0, 180) make up an experienced defensive front.

“We have both size and experience up front,” said Penrod. “But we have to develop some depth on both sides. That’s going to be something we get better at day-by-day.”

The converse is true for the skilled positions, which showcases depth and speed but not as much experience.

The top returnee is all-purpose junior James Armstrong (6-0, 190), who was an all-district first-teamer in that exact category.

James Armstrong
Current Team
Gallia Academy
2019, 2020

Armstrong is noted for his speed and breakaway ability once he touches the ball – whether it be rushing, receiving or returning kicks.

“James Armstrong is fast and he has picked up some size and strength this offseason,” said Penrod. “We lined him up mainly as a slot receiver last year, but this year we can line him up out wide, at tailback, run him on jet sweeps, really get him involved in the entire field and allow him to use his speed and athleticism and get away from defenders.”

Cade Roberts (6-1, 225, Sr.) returns as the full-time fullback, having added 10 pounds to his frame.

Cade Roberts
Current Team
Gallia Academy

Roberts – a first-team all-district defender – will also be the leading linebacker given the graduation of Campbell.

“Cade Roberts is a key returnee on both sides of the ball,” said Penrod.  “He is an outstanding linebacker.”

Replacing McClelland at quarterback is junior Nate Vanco (6-2, 195), while replacing Call and Davis include seniors Ryan Donovsky (6-1, 180), Evan Rodgers (6-3, 170) and Ben Cox (6-1, 200) and sophomores Briar Williams (5-10, 150) and Doneuvyn Woodson (5-11, 145).

“Nate (Vanco) is doing a nice job understanding the whole offense. He is a good runner, we can mix things up and put in packages that help him and really play to his strengths. He can throw the ball too. We have multiple guys who can rotate at receiver, and they have good hands to catch the ball,” said Penrod. “What we might lack in size, we make up with speed, and we can run a lot of motion and just get the ball in the hands of our playmakers.”

Those same skilled players make up the secondary, including Armstrong, Donovsky, Williams, Woodson, Cox and juniors Michael Beasy and Grant Bryan.

Trent Johnson (5-10, 175, Jr.) and Cameron Webb (6-0, 170, Jr.) join Roberts as linebackers.

Overall, the Blue Devil defense is smaller but quicker.

“We’re a smaller defense size-wise, so we have a lot of athletic, skilled-oriented kids that have speed, can be aggressive and get to the football,” said Penrod. “Our mantra is ‘relentless effort’. We might make mistakes, miss tackles, give up a big play from time to time. Those things are going to happen. But we always expect relentless effort on every play.”

That Blue Devil defense should get a boost from senior punter and placekicker Andrew Toler (6-1, 185), a GAHS soccer standout whom the coach said has been more committed to football this season.

“He (Toler) went to several camps and is really a weapon both placekicking and punting,” said Penrod. “His leg can change the dynamic of the game with field position. He has been getting a lot of kickoffs in the end zone. He can kick field goals consistently 35 to 40 yards. Twenty yards in punting or kicking makes a major difference in high school football.”

And, it can also easily impact the outcomes of games.

Penrod knows the remainder of the OVC is out to knock the defending champions off their pedestal.

Head Coach Alexander K Penrod

Current Team
Gallia Academy
Past Teams

“This league is wide open and we know it’s even more difficult when you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” he said. “There is a lot of talent, a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches that I have a lot of respect for in the OVC. But preparing each week for everybody’s best game is what makes it fun.”

And, indeed, the Blue Devils do believe another fun season is ahead of them.

“We need to stay healthy of course, but these kids believe in themselves and each other now. They know they are capable of winning,” said Penrod. “Our expectations are increased, but Blue Devil football should be something around here we get excited about. I’m excited to see what we can do on Friday nights this fall.”

Gallia Academy 2019 Roster & Stats

1Briar Williams20225-101500000024305225304200000
2Ben Cox20206-012100000017015191100000
3James Armstrong20216-0019000000152111611774000000
4Cameron Webb20216-00170000000004102100000
5Noah Vanco20216-0219510516751329923-110100000000
6Ryan Donovsky20206-0118000000000379000000
8David Wills20235-081200000000000000000
9Kyrell Rencher20235-091350000000000000000
10Brody Fellure20235-09145220281998100000000
11Mason Skidmore20235-0915000000000121100000
12Trent Johnson20215-1017500000260643000000
13Zach Belville20215-1016000000000116000000
14Grant Bryan20215-101600000000000000000
15Evan Rodgers20206-031700000000017000000
20Michael Beasy20216-00165000001227711210101100000
21Blake Skidmore20226-01145000001-1000000000
22Carson Call20225-1116000000340000000000
24Donevyn Woodson20225-111450000011126013122300000
25Jacob Hill20215-111600000000000000000
34Cade Roberts20206-01225000001377221315100000
40Adam Stout20215-101350000000000000000
44Caleb Geiser20225-1016500000931000000000
45Andrew Toler20206-0118500000110000000000
50Riley Starnes20216-052950000000000000000
51Garrison Garnes20225-112000000000000000000
52Gabe Raynor20235-111900000000000000000
53Zack Hemby20216-021900000000000000000
54Brant Rocchi20216-001800000000000000000
55Yashua Peaks20216-043150000000000000000
56Cole Rose20206-022350000000000000000
58Trent Meadows20206-001900000000000000000
59Jarrell Scott20216-001800000000000000000
63Collin Watson20225-101850000000000000000
64Brayden Easton20226-011900000000000000000
67Mason Smith20236-001750000000000000000
68Shane Stroud20225-081750000000000000000
69Mason Angel20206-022800000000000000000
73Zac Canaday20206-012450000000000000000
74Dakota McCoy20225-091650000000000000000
77Isaac Clary20236-062800000000000000000

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