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Elijhaa Penny Hopes to Turn Struggling John Glenn Football Program Into Gold

Former Norwalk High standout Elijhaa Penny officially became John Glenn High’s new varsity head coach last Thursday afternoon. He met with members of the media last Friday during the school’s lunch period. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

March 26, 2023

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

You’ll have to excuse Elijhaa Penny for having a big grin on his face that extends from Studebaker Road on the west side of Norwalk to Shoemaker Ave. The former star running back from Norwalk High who played five seasons in the National Football League was officially introduced as the new head football coach for John Glenn High last Thursday afternoon.

Penny replaces David Cruz, who had been the varsity head coach the last two seasons, winning three games, and is the program’s 11th head varsity coach since 1999. The school held a “mini press conference” last Friday during the school’s lunch period at the main quad.

“I’m so excited to be back in my community; back where I’m from and back in my city.” said Penny as he addressed some of the student body and faculty. “I told my brothers we never won a championship playing football here in this city. Playing football is a game that you just bring so much passion, so much energy, so much desire to want to play for other people.”

“I’m incredibly excited for what he has to bring to the program,” said Glenn principal Dr. Jennifer Padilla. “I know that as the principal, our kids deserve the absolute best and I don’t think there’s anyone better out there that has that passion and drive that Penny does. He was a product of our community, so he knows the ins and outs, not only of the community, but these kids’ lives. I know he’s going to make a huge impact, not only on the football program, which is the job, but just on their lives.”

Penny, who played at the College of Sequoias for a season, before transferring to Cerritos College and finally the University of Idaho, retired from the New York Giants after the 2021 season. He spent four seasons with the Giants, rushing for 178 yards on 52 carries with one touchdown. He was an undrafted free agent of the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 where he had the best of his five-year NFL career, gaining 124 yards on 31 touches while scoring two touchdowns. Penny is also currently the 14th leading rusher in University of Idaho history with 1,728 in just two seasons with the Vandals and averaged 76 yards a game, good for sixth all time. His younger brother, Rashaad, was recently a free agent acquisition of the Philadelphia Eagles following a successful tenure with the Seattle Seahawks.

Elijhaa Penny said becoming a head coach was always a dream of his when he was playing at Norwalk under former head coach Jesse Ceniceros and added that he can’t wait to develop young men, win games and bring championships to Glenn. The Eagles went 3-7 last season and finished third in the 605 League. The program did advance to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in 2018 and 2019 and had a combined 12-10 record those two seasons. Before that, Glenn had missed the playoffs 15 straight seasons, never winning more than five games at any time.

“When I went to high school, I went through a lot,” said Penny. “My path wasn’t easy, but I saw a man that just didn’t quit on me; didn’t give up on me. I just knew how important that was for me and I know there are other kids out here…in this community; kids everywhere that just are need of someone’s help. Really, that’s one of my main reasons why [I wanted to be a head coach].”

Once the season ended last October, the opening for a new head coach was made available and Penny admitted that realistically, he couldn’t consider applying because he had attended Norwalk High. But as time went on, he thought about it, thought about himself, the kids in the community and the things he wanted to do overall. Penny had his first interview with the Glenn administration in the middle of February and a second one earlier this month.

“Ultimately, I just thought it was [the city of] Norwalk, it’s the same kids, we’re in the same community and ultimately, I just wanted to help out,” he continued. “I feel like these kids are my friends’ kids.”

“We started the process right away,” said Padilla. “There was an internal process first that we had to go through and invite people from our own district to apply. We did fly the position and Penny was one of those that just really rose to the top.”

Padilla admitted that Penny was the school’s selection for over a month, but couldn’t make it official until he was cleared by the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Padilla couldn’t disclose the exact number of candidates who applied for the position and were interviewed, but did say there were quite a few. The school had to go through several rounds of interviews before making its final decision.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: From left to right: John Glenn High co-athletic director Linda Parra, varsity head football coach Elijhaa Penny, assistant principal Paulette Gasporra and principal Dr. Jennifer Padilla. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

When he was playing against Glenn in the yearly Mayor’s Cup rivalry game, heavily dominated by Norwalk, Penny said his impression on Glenn was that it has always had athletes, always had great players and the Lancers would beat the Eagles off discipline.

When it comes to his NFL expertise, Penny said the only thing he’ll bring to Glenn is the preparation before the games and the preparation in the classroom. He continued by saying everything he failed during his high school days, he wants to make those corrections with the kids at Glenn.

The fact that Elijhaa and Rashaad Penny are involved with teams whose names are the Eagles is just coincidence. Elijhaa said he and his brother are already thinking about theme songs for the teams.

“I feel a good year for both of us,” he added. “A healthy year for him and a prosperous year for me.”

“It means that we must be doing something right in our community; that people want to come back and give back,” said Padilla of hiring Penny. “For the program, it means a whole new energy that’s he’s going to bring. I think that his passion for the game, with his skills and his experience…I hope that it inspires our students to work really hard because they have a lot of work to do. I really think he’s the one that can just get them excited about that and make it happen.”