Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
August 27, 2015
It was 6:45 a.m. the first Monday after school let out, and 55 Kenston football players were already in the gym stretching, getting ready to go without a coach kicking them in the rear.
With six positions to fill on offense and seven on defense, the Bombers knew they had their work cut out for them – not to mention having to prepare for eight new opponents this season as a result of joining the re-established Western Reserve Conference.
Claiming an outright Chagrin Valley Conference banner and a third consecutive playoff appearance during last season’s 8-3 campaign didn’t happen on talent alone.
“We tell the kids all the time that it takes no talent to be the most physical team in the WRC. It takes no talent. That’s all about attitude and effort,” said fourth-year head coach Jeff Grubich, who has a 22-12 record at the helm.
“It was our first time in our four years,” he said about having 55 guys show up for the first day of summer conditioning. “Usually there’s 20-some kids, but this senior class, they know what the expectations are, which is refreshing.”
While there is no doubt it is the Bombers’ intention to earn a fourth straight trip to the postseason, they will have to earn that privilege as one of the smallest schools in Division II this season – getting bumped up from Division III.
And with realignments figured by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Kenston is one of 13 schools in Region 7 returning from a playoff run last year.
“Only eight get to go,” Grubich said. “So I told our kids, ‘Who cares? There’s nothing we can do about it. Let’s worry about the guys in this room, and let’s work our tails off.’ At the end of the season, we’ll let the dust settle.”
While the Bombers graduated 15 players, they bring up 21 seniors, 12 juniors, 15 sophomores and 22 freshmen in their program, including third-year starting quarterback Parker Gdula, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior.
While Gdula completed 148 of 259 passes, 57.1 percent, for 2,328 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, Kenston graduated its entire receiving corps.
“It’s tough, but we knew we graduated a lot of guys,” Gdula said. “So in February, we were getting guys in the gym, working with those guys. They knew they had to step up. Now they’re making great plays and not missing a step.”
While their roles were mostly limited to defense last season, seniors Ryan Cozzens, 6-foot, and Max Seewald, 5-foot-9, will be the Bombers’ go-to guys at slot receivers, while 5-foot-9 junior Christian Cassaro and 5-foot-11 freshman Branson Stanley will run routes on the outside.
In the offensive backfield, meanwhile, the Bombers return 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior tailback James Thigpen, who tallied 164 carries for 1,067 yards, a 6.5-yard average, and 13 touchdowns last season. He is also the only returning Bomber with any substantial receiving experience, collecting 23 catches for 345 yards.
Thigpen will operate behind an offensive line that has three returning starters, including: 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior tackle McKade Hatfield; 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior guard Joe Zoretich; and 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior center Mike Sirna, who tore his ACL last year and missed the entire season.
“He’s our quarterback of the offensive line, and he’s been a great leader,” Grubich said of Sirna. “It’s good to have him back. We missed him last year.”
Max Phillips, a 6-foor-3, 272-pound junior, is projected to fill the offensive-guard vacancy, and 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior Cole Maniglia is a leading candidate to fill the tackle vacancy. Zach Czech, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore, is also in the mix.
Keeping a two-platoon mentality with an offense that moves up and down the field in a hurry, the Bombers plan to utilize an entirely different line on the defensive front after graduating all four starters from last season.
Juniors Sam Slezak, 190 pounds, and Dylan Borland, 210 pounds, will play defensive end, while 6-foot-3, 335-pound junior Caleb Dancy will play some nose tackle in Kenston’s new scheme. Junior Nick Hanna, 215 pounds, will also get some reps at defensive tackle.
“He’s biiig,” Grubich said of Dancy. “He can get after it. He’s a hole plugger, man. We’ll just stick him in the gap and go forward. Defensively, we want to have freaking 11 silver bullets going to the football.”
Zach Silbermann, a 6-foot, 230-pound senior, returns as a first-team all-CVC linebacker, while Collin Kure, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior, also returns as a third-year starting linebacker.
“Last year, I thought the main thing was just coming out with emotion and going 110 percent every play,” Silbermann said. “And that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to come out and just go hard nose every single play. It’s all about attitude and effort.”
With a defense that only allowed 12.5 points per game last season, Kenston is hoping to continue that effort this year, Kure said.
“Well, there’s always room for improvement, and it’s all about bringing the young guys up by doing your job to the best of your ability,” Kure said. “As long as you bring attitude and effort, it doesn’t matter what offense a team plays or what athletes they have.”
Seniors Matt Shell, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and Romay’le Terry, 6-foot, 180 pounds, will also start at linebacker this year.
In the backfield, returning senior starters Charlie Randall, 5-foot-11, and Mikey Thigpen, 5-foot-8, will resume their cornerback duties, while the safety spots are a toss-up among four seniors: 5-foot-10 Payton Hulsinger; 6-foot Cordell Holmes; 5-foot-8 Thoe Stokes; and 5-foot-10 Barrett Weber.
On special teams, 6-foot-3 sophomore soccer player Ryan Toft will take over kicking duties, while Randall, one of the fastest guys on the team, will resume returning duties, as well as the elder Thigpen.
The Bombers will kick off their season on the road at 7 p.m. Friday, when they take on new opponent Amherst Steele.
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