The tradition-rich Jackson Ironmen football program, and the sport of football in general, has been Shane Wolford’s life ever since his youth. But now Wolford’s life will focus on the two young children of his own. That’s because the 29-year-old Wolford, after four seasons at the helm, officially resigned on Wednesday as the Jackson High School head football coach.
JACKSON — The tradition-rich Jackson Ironmen football program, and the sport of football in general, has been Shane Wolford’s life ever since his youth.
But now Wolford’s life will focus on the two young children of his own.
That’s because the 29-year-old Wolford, after four seasons at the helm, officially resigned on Wednesday as the Jackson High School head football coach.
Wolford informed his team of his decision Wednesday morning, citing a desire to spend more time with his own young family.
Wolford and his wife, Jenny, are the parents of two young sons, three-year-old Cade and soon-to-be one-year-old Bodhi.
“It’s a situation where I truly have not had much time to spend with my own family,” Wolford told The Jackson County Times-Journal on Wednesday. “I’ve been pre-occupied with football being the head coach, but now I have two very young kids and I want to enjoy seeing them more. I want to take some time to live my life without football and see what that’s like. I may find out that I don’t like it without football. But I believe I have the rest of my life to be a coach. When you have two little boys, as a parent, those two little boys aren’t going to get younger. I don’t have any immediate plans of doing anything else other than being a teacher here and then going home and being a dad.”
Indeed, Wednesday was the first day in many years in which football was far from the top of Wolford’s priority list.
He has spent the past decade on the Jackson High School football coaching staff, including the past four seasons as the head coach.
Wolford went 24-17 in those four seasons, as the Ironmen enjoyed at least .500 or better seasons in all four years.
In 2006, bolstered by a 42-15 victory over Chillicothe and a 4-1 finish in the second half of the regular season, the Ironmen qualified for the Division III, Region 12 playoffs.
The Ironmen went 7-3 in his first season, before back-to-back 6-4 regular seasons and a 5-5 finish in 2008.
Wolford was the head coach through two new eras of Jackson football, one which included the Ironmen as part of the expanded — and more difficult — Southeastern Ohio Athletic League.
The other was the one at the sparkling Alumni Stadium, which has been home to Ironmen football for the past five years.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed it,” he said. “We’ve had a good long run here. I’ve worked with a lot of good football players that came through and worked hard. Hopefully, some of the Xs and Os and life lessons we’ve taught the kids will stick with them. And I couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff. This is a tremendous group of assistant coaches. We all played here, we’re all great friends and we all get along great. I feel we just continued the tradition here at Jackson. The people are great here and the administration has been great. We have great support groups in the (Jackson) Sideliners Club and the Football Mothers Club. Jackson is a football community and I like that. Not coaching may be a change, but being a Jackson Ironman is where I’m at.”
An Ironman is what Wolford has always been.
Wolford first played football in the Jackson Pee Wee program, then went on to star for the varsity Ironmen from 1995 thru 1997.
In his final two years, Wolford was all-SEOAL, including the league’s Most Valuable Player his senior season.
When he graduated in 1998, he did so as the school’s all-time leading rusher.
While Wolford was on varsity, Jackson captured three straight SEOAL championships, including the last two outright with perfect 7-0 league records.
He was part of the Ironmen which amassed an 18-game SEOAL winning streak in the process.
The Ironmen, then coached by Jim Reynolds, also earned their first-ever state playoff berths in Wolford’s final two seasons.
The 1996 campaign was highlighted by the Ironmen posting a perfect 10-0 regular-season mark for only the fourth time in school history.
Jackson slipped past Hillsboro 7-0 in the regional semifinals before losing to eventual state runner-up Columbus DeSales in the regional championship.
Wolford began his coaching career in 1999, and served on the staff of then-head coach Randy Layton.
The Ironmen made four more playoff appearances under Layton — in 1999 and 2000 and again in 2003 and 2004.
As an assistant, Wolford worked his way up to coordinating the offense for the Jackson junior varsity teams.
When Layton resigned on June 12, 2005, Wolford was one of the first names mentioned as a possible replacement.
Sure enough, on June 28 of that year, he was hired in a 4-1 vote by the Jackson City Board of Education as the Ironmen’s next head football coach.
“I was grateful for the opportunity and I learned a lot from playing for Coach Reynolds and coaching with Coach Layton,” he said. “I look at them as role models and wanted to continue what they were doing here.”
Offensively, like his predecessors, Wolford was a run-oriented, ball-control, clock-consuming coach.
Several of his players earned all-league or all-Southeast District honors from the Associated Press, and some have even furthered their football careers at the collegiate level.
On Wolford’s watch, the Ironmen experienced both great victories and heartbreaking defeats.
Among those triumphs was the 17-7 upset of visiting Ironton in his first season, as the Fighting Tigers were undefeated at the time at 4-0 and ranked third in the state in the Division IV Associated Press statewide poll.
The next year, after suffering a 21-19 heartbreaker to visiting Portsmouth the week before, the Ironmen not only saved their season, but turned it completely around with the aforementioned crushing of high-powered Chillicothe.
The Ironmen won four of their final five games and advanced to the state playoffs for the seventh time.
The latest playoff berth meant Wolford was involved — in some capacity — in all seven of the school’s postseason appearances.
“The playoff appearances were always special, and I feel fortunate to be a part of all of them,” he said.
While Jackson did not advance to the playoffs in the past two seasons, the Ironmen did complete the gauntlet of the SEOAL South.
In 2007, Jackson snapped a nine-game losing streak to nemesis Gallipolis, and defeated Portsmouth this past season for the first time since 1985.
The Ironmen also kept alive a pair of winning streaks against a pair of rivals.
With their 41-14 season-opening win over Wellston, the Red and White now own a dubious 18-game winning streak over their Jackson County neighbors to the north.
In addition, the Ironmen extended to 11 their winning streak over the Vinton County Vikings.
This year’s team also snapped a four-game losing skid to the Waverly Tigers.
But the Ironmen have endured some tough losses as well.
Besides the two-point heartbreaker to Portsmouth in 2006, Jackson has also lost to Waverly (17-16 in 2005 and 26-20 in overtime in the Region 12 quarterfinals in 2006), Logan (14-7 in 2005), Gallipolis on three occasions (20-10 in 2005, 34-27 in 2006 and 36-28 in 2008) and Ironton (20-14 in overtime in 2007).
“We’ve been on both ends of those big wins and big disappointments or heartbreakers,” said Wolford.
This past season saw the Ironmen finish 1-5 after a 4-0 start, and as it concluded, Wolford alluded in off-the-record conversations about spending more time with his family.
His last public appearance as the head coach came on Nov. 13 at the annual Jackson Football Mothers Club banquet.
“I don’t think this (resignation) is a big shock,” said Wolford. “It’s been rumored around, but I wanted to take some time and think about everything. The season ended over a month ago, and I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about it. The more and more I thought about, I decided I wanted to spend more time with my family. I feel like that is something that has been missing in my life. My wife has always supported me and continues to support me.”
While Wolford resigned on Wednesday, he didn’t rule out a return to coaching.
“I may just take only a year or two off and come back and coach again,” he said. “I’ll never say never. But right now, I want to take time and enjoy other important things in my life.”
Besides his desire to spend more time with his family, Wolford also said he wanted to increase two of his favorite recreational pursuits — golfing and fishing.
“I like to do those things, but by coaching, I’ve never really got to enjoy those like I’ve truly wanted.”
Instead, football — primarily Jackson Ironmen football — has been his lifelong passion.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be (without football), but it’s something I want to try,” he said.
Wolford said he will remain in the school district as a teacher, as he has been employed by the Jackson City School District for the past seven years.
The past six of those have been at the high school, as he is currently an Intervention Specialist.
Jenny Wolford is a teacher in the Vinton County Local School District.