Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
August 23, 2018
Just like a tourist toting a stashed bundle of cash in a foreign land, the 2018 Kenston gridders had better protect their pockets after getting robbed of a playoff berth a year ago.
The Bomber gridders return on the heels of an 8-2 campaign, including a four-game win streak to end their season with a 5-2 mark in the competitive Western Reserve Conference, but they came three-tenths of a point shy of a playoff berth in the Division III, Region 9 computer rankings.
Trying to turn a negative into a positive, that letdown was good motivation for the offseason, said seventh-year head coach Jeff Grubich, who owns a 35-29 record with three postseason appearances at the helm.
“As soon as Christmas break was over, we flushed that down the toilet, and we said it’s time to go back to work, and we don’t want to leave any doubt this year,” he said. “We want to try to control our own destiny, and that starts with week one and handling our business with Streetsboro. That’s the only thing we’re focused on.
“And I think our team recognizes that, if we handle our business Monday through Thursday on the practice field, we’ll go out and play well Friday, we’ll make it to week two, and we’ll go from there.”
Before the Kenston gridders kick off their season with a home battle against Streetsboro at 7 p.m. Friday, however, they’ve already lost a pair of defensive starters to ACL injuries, including senior captain Sam Leygraaf, an honorable mention all-Northeast District linebacker last season, and Justin Georgiou, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end who transferred from California.
Grubich said those two gentlemen are perfect reminders for the rest of his players to go out and get after it every day.
“You never know when your last play is going to be your last play or your last game is going to be your last game,” the coach said. “Obviously, we thought we were going to be in the playoffs last year, and we were all geared up for that, and that got ripped away from us. So, it’s kind of a good life lesson that you never know when your last game or your last play can happen, so you better have a sense of urgency about what you’re doing.”
Offensively, the Bombers return seven starters from a balanced attack that averaged 399.3 yards and 36.5 points per game in 2017.
Suiting up for his second year starting at quarterback is 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior Jon Tomcufcik, who completed 116 of 222 passes, or 52.3 percent, for 1,794 yards, 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. He was a second-team all-Northeast District selection.
“I can sum it up in one word: confidence,” Grubich said of his veteran signal-caller. “He was kind of unsure of himself last year, but I’ve got to give him credit. He did well, and he got better each game. But this year he’s already a 10-game starter.”
But Kenston’s offense has standouts all over, including first-team all-Ohio running back Jack Porter, second-team all-Ohio receiver Bransen Stanley and second-team all-Ohio lineman Alex Robarge.
A 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior, Porter carried the pigskin 238 times for 1,447 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.
“We’ve been on him all winter and all summer about putting the work in to be even better than he was last year,” Grubich said. “And he’s done that. The biggest thing is getting some continuity on that offensive line and replacing the two guys we lost last year so Jack can have a great year. And Jack will be the first guy to give credit to the guys up front for opening holes for him.”
A 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior, Stanley hauled in 33 catches for 701 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He is a fourth-year starter who rarely comes off the field.
Also returning at receiver, 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior Tyler Mintz had 18 catches for 353 yards and two touchdowns last season and is a third-year starter. He will move to more of an H-back spot.
Meanwhile, 6-foot-5, 200-pound freshman Ryan Miller will play some tight end, and either Ja’Von Middleton or Jonathan Abbarno, both 5-foot-8 juniors, will take over the flanker spot.
“He’s just a big body, great athlete, great hands, but he’s just a pup,” Grubich said of Miller. “We just keep telling him he has to be more physical and learn how to use his body. If he bends those knees and uses that leverage, he’s got a lot of power that he doesn’t know about.”
And Kenston’s all-Ohioan on the offensive line, 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior Robarge will play right tackle, while 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior Brandon Schroeder returns at center and fellow returner George Sell, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior, will start at left tackle.
In the mix to fill the vacancies at the guard positions are 235-pound junior Justin Schroeder, 235-pound junior Jeremiah Jones, 245-pound junior Connor Kratzert and 235-pound junior Harris Skaramagas.
On the defensive front, meanwhile, 6-foot-1, 275-pound senior Mitch Sotera returns at nose tackle, while 6-foot, 205-pound Jacob Engelhart, who had 19 tackles last year, and 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior Tim Matty, who had 13 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, will play defensive ends. Also in the mix is 195-pound junior Eric Dombrowski.
And although Kenston lost Leygraaf to an ACL injury, the Bombers’ linebacker unit remains pretty experienced with 180-pound senior Matt Iklodi, a second-team all-district selection last season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble, along with 205-pound senior Joe Staudenbaur, who had 53 tackles, and 190-pound junior Logan Vargo, who had 58 tackles.
In the mix to fill Leygraaf’s linebacker spot are the elder Schroeder and 215-pound sophomore Anthony Valocchi.
And returning in the defensive secondary is 6-foot senior strong safety Nick Franklin, who had 48 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries last year, while two-way senior standout Stanley, who had 23 tackles, one interception and a fumble recovery from last year, and Dorion Talley, who started as a sophomore but was out with an ACL injury last year, will play cornerbacks
Meanwhile, Kole Jarzembak, a 5-foot-8 senior, and junior standout Mintz, who had 35 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries last year, will work the other safety spot.
For kicking duties, the Bombers will call upon 5-foot-5 junior veteran Anna Sanders for extra points, 6-foot junior Blake Torres for field goals and kickoffs and 5-foot-9 senior David Cooper for punting.
Overall, the Bombers have 14 seniors, 23 juniors, 18 sophomores and 18 freshmen.
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