Players Buying in Year-Round at Buckeye Trail

By RICK THORP

OLD WASHINGTON — When Donnie Kerns took over the Buckeye Trail football program one of the things he wanted to do was change the culture.

“I wanted the ‘buy in’ Kerns, entering his third season at his alma mater, said. “We had a lot of ‘August 1’ guys.”

Basically, Kerns wanted to see players make football a year-round endeavor and not just show up when practice starts wanting to play.

“We’ve done that,” Kerns said.

The nearly 40 players that will take the field Friday night at the Baker Activity Complex when the Warriors welcome former PVC rival Caldwell have paid their dues in the offseason, Kerns said, and now he’s eager to see them reap the fruits of their labors.

“We’ve been telling the kids that it’s a process,” Kerns said, noting the team has adopted a strategy used by the 2017 Iowa State team coached by Matt Campbell. “If you work hard and put the time in, it will pay off.”

Buckeye Trail is aiming to improve on a 4-6 campaign, its first as a member of the IVC.

The Warriors won two of their first three last fall before dropping five of their last seven. Kerns said Trail’s transition into the IVC wasn’t an easy one, but he didn’t expect it to be.

“I’ll tell ya, after the Claymont and Indian Valley games back-to-back, we were beat up for Malvern and Strasburg,” he said. “I look back on it and I realize how difficult the schedule was.”

This year’s schedule mirrors that one, with Caldwell being the only change. The Redskins replace Ridgewood.

“I think this schedule fits our needs a little bit more,” Kerns said. ”It’s still a difficult schedule, though. Anytime you’re in the IVC, it’s good football. It really is.

“You have Claymont and Indian Valley, still. And Barnesville will be really good. Then you have Malvern, Sandy Valley and East Canton.”

After welcoming Caldwell this week, the Warriors hit the road for two weeks, one of a pair of two-game trips. Contests vs. Strasburg and Malvern (Sept. 28 and Oct. 5) are the lone facing home dates.

“I think the kids have seen that to get ready for the schedule we play, it’s a little bit different,” Kerns said. “They knew that they had to get better in the offseason to compete (in the IVC).”

Attendance was nearly 90 percent from January through July, Kerns noted.

“We have kids who’ve bought in,” he said.

Coaches, too. There is a new one on the sideline. Kyle Cox comes from Cambridge, where he worked with Kevin Gunn. He’ll be the Warriors defensive coordinator.

“He’s bring the 4-2-5 philosophy and we’re really excited about him,” Kerns said. “He’s a young guy and brings a lot of energy.”

Kevin Spiker (offensive coordinator), Terry Parry Jr. (special teams coordinator), Brian Jackson and Dave Deal round out the high school staff. Rick Stillion, Charles Deal and Clint Pekari are junior high coaches.

Trail boasts plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball, with four returning players up front and five in the secondary.

“That’s really important,” Kerns said. “Last year we played a lot of sophomores. We played kids at the varsity level that weren’t ready to play varsity football. Their eyes got opened up at Ridgewood. Now, we don’t have to rely on sophomores. We’re mostly juniors and seniors, with a few sophomores.”

The Warriors allowed 35 or more points seven times. Kerns hopes experience, along with a renewed emphasis on stopping the run, will pay dividends.

“Since I’ve taken over, we haven’t stopped the run well and that’s on me,” he said. “We’re going to a 4-2-5. We think it allows us to get more athletes on the field and will allow us to better take away the run. I can’t take any more days of allowing 200 yards a game. It’s frustrating.”

Senior Joey Bridgeman (5-10, 309) returns to anchor the defensive line from his nose tackle spot. Senior Xavier Herman (5-10, 224) is back at an end position, while junior Dylan Berry (6-0, 269) returns at tackle. Senior Brandon Rominger (6-2, 196), who was a linebacker last season, has been moved to end.

Junior Colin Weaver (5-8, 208) and sophomores Nic Burris (5-8, 211), Liam Kelley (5-10, 204) and Kolton Shepherd (6-1, 274) are also vying for playing time on the line.

Senior Zach Grafton (5-11, 171) is in his third year in the secondary. He returns as as a corner. Also back are senior Logan McVicker (5-9, 151) at corner, and juniors Trey McGilton (5-9, 151) and Isaac Hickman (6-0, 169) at safeties. Hickman played corner previously.

Tyler King, a senior (6-1, 187), started in the secondary as a sophomore, but didn’t play until Week 10 last season. He’ll provide depth, along with senior Dylan Beaver (6-1, 169) and freshman Franko Rome (5-9, 149).

Junior Jack Parry (6-0, 221) returns at linebacker. He started there, along with junior Ronnie Rominger (6-0, 191). Hickman, senior Seth Hughes (5-8, 179) and freshman Aiden Snodgrass (5-10, 186) are other candidates there.

Snodgrass is the younger brother of Austin Snodgrass, who left Trail as one of the program’s all-time greats. The now Muskingum University player was a first team All-Ohioan last year and headed a senior class that also included Kirkland Davis, Geno CizMadia, Chase Stillion, Matt Stimpert and Chandler Hixon.

“You don’t replace a kid like Austin,” Kerns said. “We just kind of hope we’re better everywhere else and someone can go in there and fill that spot. He was a once-in-a-generation player. He was special.”

Chase Stillion, who was a jack-of-all-trades, of sorts, also picked up his diploma.

“Those are the types of kids you just don’t replace,” Kerns said. “We have to find somebody who will step up and make the plays.”

Parry and sophomore Marcus Masters (5-6, 161) will split time in the offensive backfield, Kerns said.

“Jack is a big kid,” the coach said. “And Marcus, he kind of reminds me of Austin, but not quite as fast. But a hard runner. I think both of those kids will carry the football a lot, and I hope one of those kids emerges. We have them competing every day.”

Ronnie Rominger, Hughes, and freshman Logan Hinkle (5-2, 159) and Shane Smith (5-10, 157) are other running back candidates.

Handing the ball off will be Grafton, who returns behind center. Backing him up will be Hickman, Rome and sophomore Connor Puskarich (6-0, 162).

While the running game was the focus of the Trail offense the past few seasons, Kerns said the passing game will be in the spotlight this fall thanks to the bevy of talent at receiver.

Beaver returns, as does McVicker. Kerns has high hopes for Brandon Rominger, hoping the Warriors will be able to exploit his height against smaller defensive backs. King, McGilton, Ronnie Rominger and Hickman could also see balls thrown their way.

“We think we have seven or eight guys who can go out there and make plays,” Kerns said.

With Davis gone, Herman becomes the veteran of the offensive line from the right tackle spot. Weaver and Burris both started a game or two at center and left guard, respectively, last year. Green has moved from fullback/tight end to left tackle. Berry or Kelley will play at right guard.

Snodgrass, Bridgeman, freshman Dakota Milliken (5-10, 207) or sophomores Bryce Baker (5-8, 211) Luke Stillion (5-8, 211) are other line candidates.

Hughes returns at kicker, with Grafton again performing punting chores.

“I think or expectations are to just play hard,” Kerns said. “If we take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”

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