LOWER POTTSGROVE >> Pottsgrove’s search to replace a coaching legend didn’t need to extend beyond its own walls.
Longtime varsity assistant Billy Hawthorne was voted in and named as the program’s next head coach at Pottsgrove’s school board meeting on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got a program that’s in great shape based on the things that I believe in,” said the 43-year-old Hawthorne. “Discipline, hard work, accountability. I plan to be myself and bring things that will be of value in adding to the positives that have been with Pottsgrove football all these years.”
Hawthorne takes over after head coach Rick Pennypacker announced his retirement this past fall after 29 seasons at the helm. Taking over for Pennypacker, who coached the Falcons to nine Pioneer Athletic Conference championships and four District 1 titles during his tenure, Hawthorne knows he’s got some major shoes to fill.
“I mean he only has a stadium (Rick Pennypacker Field) named after him, so other than that,” said Hawthorne with a laugh. “Anyone that tries to replace Rick Pennypacker is gonna fail. You’ve got to just try and build on the things that he’s implemented in here. That’s exactly what we’re planning to do.”
Hawthorne played four years under Pennypacker prior to his 1993 graduation from Pottsgrove. From there, he went on to study at Dickinson College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. Since graduating from Dickinson, Hawthorne has been teaching at Pottsgrove School District, currently instructing Honors Civics and AP U.S. Government & Politics.
“First of all, anytime you can get someone that’s in the building, that’s huge,” said Pottsgrove athletic director Gary Derenzo. “Obviously he knows our program, he’s been a part of it for a long time. Billy’s a good guy — he knows our kids, he lives in our community, so he’s the perfect choice. We’re excited for him and for the program.”
Hawthorne’s transition to his first varsity head coaching position shouldn’t be too daunting of a task, considering he’s got 19 years of coaching experience under his belt.
Following his graduation from Dickinson, Hawthorne served as an assistant at Perkiomen Valley under Scott Fuhrman for one year. From there, Hawthorne returned to Pottsgrove where he spent the next six seasons as the wide receivers/defensive backs coach under Pennypacker. Then in 2005, he made the jump to offensive coordinator, a position he held until 2014 before taking a two-year hiatus to spend more time with his family. He then returned to the sidelines this past season as the offensive line coach.
“I was extremely fortunate to have had a lot of great coaches as mentors,” said Hawthorne. “I was lucky enough to play and coach under Rick and to play for Darwin Breaux at Dickinson. They were both sort of staples of their institutions.”
During Pennypacker’s tenure with Pottsgrove, the Falcons had always been a run-heavy team utilizing the playmakers in the backfield. Now, Hawthorne says, there could be a bit of a shakeup for the Maroon and White.
“Everything I do is for a purpose, but we’re gonna be a spread-option offense,” he said. “We’re hoping to get to the point of 40-percent pass, 60-percent run. That all depends on personnel, though. If we’ve got five stud linemen, two solid tight ends, I’ll run the ball all game.
“You have to fit a system to the talent that you have. You’ve got to work with what you have. I’ll never put a kid into a system where he has no chance of succeeding. We’ll do what’s best for our players.”
Perhaps the first step for Hawthorne and the Falcons will be replacing standout running back Rahsul Faison. Faison, a Stony Brook University commit, rushed for a Pioneer Athletic Conference-record 2,919 yards (No. 10 all-time in Pennsylvania history) and 42 touchdowns last season.
Quarterback Jay Sisko was strong in his role last season, rushing it for 555 yards and 12 touchdowns with another dozen scores through the air. Heading into his senior season, Sisko should be a huge piece for the Falcons next fall. All-Frontier Division First Team defensive end Ryan Bodolus will return as will two-way linemen Darrian Seaman, Justin Adams and Nate Tornetta.
“Expectations are always the same around here regardless of who is back and who isn’t,” said Hawthorne. “We always expect to win, but with that, we know that we’ll always get everyone’s best game.
“I’m looking forward to it.”