If those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, then perhaps the Kenston gridders should go ahead and take a snooze on what happened last year.
The 2019 Bombers will return to action on the heels of a 14-1 campaign that included the best win in their program’s history – a 42-6 stomping of Kettering Archbishop Alter in the Division III state championship at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
But the boys from Bainbridge and Auburn townships had 273 days to enjoy that victory and are going to have a whole other monster to face this season.
“That’s why I run the heck out of them and just keep grinding on them about how it’s a new year, a different team. Last year doesn’t matter,” said eighth-year head coach Jeff Grubich, who has a 49-30 record at the helm. “You guys haven’t won anything, haven’t accomplished anything. This is a brand-new season, and you better toughen the heck up, because everybody is going to want to give you their best shot. So, we’ve got the X on our back.”
Because of that, the Bombers must remain hungry and humble, he said.
During Kenston’s second scrimmage of the preseason, Division II Bedford, which finished 1-9 last year, show up at the defending champions’ home turf and punched them in the mouth, Grubich said.
“The reason for that was because we thought we could just walk out there and be the state champs from last year,” he said. “That was a reality check for us, and now we understand that this is a completely different team, completely new season, and, regardless of our team’s record last year, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Everybody wants to say that they beat the Bombers this year. So, the kids have kind of embraced that and kind of taken this underdog role – at least that’s what I’m preaching to them.”
While the Bombers return eight starters from an offense that averaged 429.3 yards and 40.3 points per game last season, they have their work cut out on defense with just four returning starters.
Notably, Kenston brings back the likes of third-year senior starters Jon Tomcufcik at quarterback and Jack Porter at running back, both of whom earned first-team all-Ohio recognition in 2018.
Six-foot-1, 195-pound Tomcufcik completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 3,032 yards and 27 touchdowns with just four interceptions and two sacks, while 5-foot-10, 190-pound Porter averaged 5.8 yards per carry for 2,419 yards and 32 touchdowns, not to mention 230 yards receiving.
“Yeah, they have improved,” Grubich said. “What we always tell the kids is, the standards have been raised. The bar was set here, and now you can’t even see where the bar is at. So, we’re going to have to play better, we’re going to have to be coached up harder, and we’re going to have to score more points.”
While Kenston graduated all-Ohio receiver Bransen Stanley, who accounted for 1,144 yards in 2018, the Bombers return a trio of polished route runners in 5-foot-10 senior Tyler Mintz, who had 53 catches for 872 yards and 11 touchdowns last year; 5-foot-9 senior Jay Middleton, who had 30 catches for 644 yards and four touchdowns; and 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore tight end Ryan Miller, who had 24 catches for 251 yards.
Meanwhile, 5-foot-9 senior Jonathan Abbarno will step up and take on a starting receiver role this campaign.
“He’s starting in Bransen’s spot, and he’s doing a great job,” Grubich said. “He’s obviously not as fast as Bransen, but he’s a technician at his trade. He runs perfect routes. They’re at the exact depth. And I think (Tomcufcik) trusts him a lot and knows he can be a go-to guy.”
Six-foot sophomore JP Germano will also get some reps at receiver, Grubich said.
On the offensive line, Kenston graduated first-team all-Ohioan Alex Robarge but returns three starters in 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior left tackle George Sell, 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior guard Jeremiah Jones and 6-foot, 235-pound senior Justin Schroeder.
Meanwhile, 6-foot-2, 275-pound sophomore Kale Doyle is a top prospect to take over duties at center, and 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior Todd Gruden will take over the other tackle position.
Two-platooned in the trenches, 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior Tim Matty returns at defensive end, after recording 63 tackles, five sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble last year; while 6-foot, 285-pound senior Max Czech will assume a starting defensive end role after recording 38 tackles last season; and 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior Eric Dombroski is figuring to start after tallying 20 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2018.
Also plugging holes will be 5-foot-11, 245-pound senior tackle Connor Kratzert.
“I think our D-line is really a strength, because these guys all played last year, even though Tim Matty is the only returning starter,” Grubich said. “They’re the most tested out of our defensive group.”
At linebacker, Kenston graduated its lead tackler in all-Ohioan Matt Iklodi but returns 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior Logan Vargo, who had 145 tackles with a fumble recover and two forced fumbles last year, as well as 6-foot, 215-pound junior Anthony Valocchi, who recorded 75 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Grubich said he has five prospects to fill the other two linebacker spots.
And the lone returner in the defensive secondary is free safety Mintz, a four-year starter who tallied 47 tackles with six interceptions and a forced fumble last season. Middleton and fellow seniors Alex Castro and Tyler Kestranek look the parts to fill the other safety and cornerback spots.
“I think we have good football players over there,” Grubich said about the defensive side of the pigskin. “And they’re good athletes, but we just lack that game experience that we had a year ago. I know we got exposed in our scrimmages, but it’s not from a lack off effort or a lack of talent. So, I think our defense can be our strength and help us win football games.”
And returning as the Bombers’ kickoff man is 6-foot senior Blake Torres, who will also take over extra-point duties this fall.
The Bombers will kick off their 2019 campaign on the road against new foe Black River, a Division VI program that runs a wing-T offense, at 7 p.m. Friday in Medina County.