The Kenston gridders no longer have the target on their backs.
Graduating nine starters on offense and losing another nine starters on defense, it’ll be tough for opponents in the Western Reserve Conference to even know what they’re aiming at when they lock horns with the Bombers on Friday nights this season.
For the past three years, league foes’ best defense was to keep their offense on the field as long as possible against a balanced Kenston attack that went for all or nothing nearly every possession and averaged 404.1 yards per game since 2017. Last year, the Bombers had four all-Ohioans on that offense.
But heck, Kenston ninth-year head coach Jeff Grubich, who owns a 57-33 record with a state title at the helm, has so many pieces to the turnover puzzle that not even he knows what target his opponents would be aiming for this 2020 campaign.
“I think we’re going to be balanced as usual, take what the defense gives us and be smart,” Grubich said earlier this week. “But I’ve got a lot of moving parts and people asking me, ‘Who you starting?’ And I don’t know. It’s day by day. I don’t even know what my starting lineup is for Friday. So, we’re doing the best we can.”
What the state-champion coach does know is that his gridders have been grinding since day one and continue to be all in, he said.
When the Bombers open their 2020 campaign on the road against Division II Mayfield at 7 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium, they’ll have 50-plus practices under their belts.
“They all showed up every day, so that tells you enough right there,” Grubich said. “There’s no doubt they’ve gotten better. I think we’re going to be really good. I mean, these kids know what they’re doing. They’ve been busting their butts, working hard with us.
“And I don’t know about other programs and what they’ve been doing, but I think we’ll be OK. We’re going to be good.”
The Bombers have 65 guys on their roster, but they’re young with just eight seniors and 11 juniors.
Taking over starting duties at quarterback is 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore Nikko Georgiou, who got a taste of varsity action last season, when he completed 10 of 13 passes for 168 yards. He backed up 2020 graduate Jon Tomcufcik, who passed for 6,963 yards with 58 touchdowns during his three years on varsity.
“(Georgiou) is going to be a great player for us, no doubt,” Grubich said. “He’s got great feet, and he throws the ball well, and he makes good decisions.”
In the backfield, 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior Stanley Sell is gearing to prove himself after playing the past two seasons behind 2020 graduate Jack Porter, who finished his career at Kenston with 5,014 rushing yards for 66 touchdowns. Sell had 13 carries in each of the past two seasons for a combined 124 yards.
Young talents who will also likely get some reps at running back are freshman Sean Patrick and sophomore Ben DiMarco, Grubich said.
In terms of route-runners, all eyes will be on the return of 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior tight end Ryan Miller, who had 23 catches for 204 yards with five touchdowns last year, as well as 24 catches for 251 yards as a freshman during the Bombers’ title run in 2018.
According to 247 Sports, Miller is the No. 20 recruit in the nation for his position in the class of 2022.
“He’s a mentally tough kid, and he’s going to be OK with it,” Grubich said about Miller being a big name on opponents’ scouting reports. “I think he wants the pressure on his shoulder and to do what he can for this team to help us out.”
At wide receiver, 6-foot junior JP Germano returns with some varsity experience from 2019, including 14 catches for 182 yards with two touchdowns, while other guys in the mix are Sell, Patrick, 5-foot-8 sophomore Lucas Simmons and 6-foot junior Carson Rivera-Gebeau, who had five catches for 120 yards last year.
Up front is where most of the question marks remain entering the first game of the season, Grubich said. Kenston returns 6-foot, 270-pound junior Cale Doyle, who got the nod at right guard last season but suffered a knee injury early in the campaign. Other than that, every lineman who started last season, both on offense and defense, graduated.
Likely to step up and perhaps play some two-football in the trenches will be 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior Aaron Manis, 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior Donaldo Valadez Fuentes and 6-foot, 215-pound senior Anthony Valocchi.
Valocchi specifically started at linebacker last season with 52 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles, but he’s one of those day-by-day moving parts who could play multiple positions, Grubich said.
“Well, it’s like any other year,” Grubich said. “We’re going to do what’s right for the kids and the team, and we’re going to work hard and do whatever we can to find a way. I mean, that’s all you can do.”
Kenston graduated its other three starting linebackers, including second-team all-Ohioan Logan Vargo, so the Bombers could experience some growing pains when it comes to stopping the chunk plays this season.
But, really, it’s the entire defense that’s going to get tested, as Kenston graduated its entire secondary as well.
Top candidates to defend the passing game are Simmons, Patrick, Germano and 5-foot-9 sophomore Logan Toft, Grubich said.
And taking on starting kicking duties for the Bombers is sophomore Parker Munday, who connected on all three of his extra-point attempts as a backup last season.
The bottom line is that Kenston is looking for a great year, Grubich said.