KENTON – The big question most Kenton fans are asking is who is going to be the new quarterback this season.
While two prime candidates are vying for the spot, the bigger question for Wildcat head coach Brent Fackler and his coaching staff is who is going to protect the new signal-caller.
Junior Jake Eversole, who played free safety and was the backup quarterback last season, is looking to work his way behind the center, as well as incoming junior Blaine Huston, who hails from Missouri and the school previously coached by former Kenton coach Mike Mauk.
The graduated Jaron Sharp, an all-state selection, will be tough to replace. He threw for 3,149 yards and 36 touchdowns with just two interceptions last year.
Eversole, who hurt his shoulder last season, injured himself over the summer during 7 on 7 competition, and Fackler is hoping he will be ready to go once the season begins.
“Jake (Eversole) did a great job when he came in for Jaron (Sharp) last year when he got injured,” Fackler said. “He was the heir apparent.”
In week nine, Eversole suffered a right shoulder injury and has been recuperating. He began actively throwing about two months ago. But during a 7 on 7 competition at Penn State, Eversole looked to make a play on defense and hit the ground, separating his left shoulder.
“He will not be in scrimmages, but we are hoping to have him back for (the first game vs.) Coldwater,” Fackler said. “He knows the offense.”
If Eversole is still unable to go, Huston will get the call. Huston transferred in over the winter from Glendale, Missouri. Huston’s older brother moved to Missouri to play for the former Wildcat head coach Mauk and set numerous passing records.
Now Huston has returned to Kenton.
“He was Mike’s (Mauk) quarterback last year,” Fackler said. “He’s shown a lot of progress and has gotten all the reps in the summer. It is still questionable what we are going to do but going forward, he’s (Huston) going to be the guy in scrimmages. Jake can throw, but he is not quite there yet.”
Fackler added that whomever is chosen to guide the Wildcats, he can’t go wrong. His focus must shift and protect the two young field generals when they are on the offense.
Logan Hurt, who was the starting guard, is the lone returner up front, and Fackler said he doesn’t know what position he will be at this season.
Luke Fackler, who was a mainstay on the Kenton defensive line, will see work on the O-line. Tim Jewett, Wes Minter, Zach Heintz and Cameron Zickafoss are also being tabbed to play on the offensive line. Noah Eikenbary and Gunner Stout, who both played on the defensive line, might be called on to switch to the offensive side for help.
“The biggest key of our offense is going to be our offensive line,” Fackler said. “We need them because we are going to have a quarterback that has never been under the lights for us.
“The game has caught up to our system, but if you do it right and keep working, it is going to have great dividends. But to do that, we have to protect the young quarterback, and our line knows that, and that is why we have had defensive guys step over to help us out. We are really looking forward to see what happens in the preseason and scrimmage so we can mold that line.”
Rebuilding an offensive line and breaking in a new quarterback are two areas the Wildcats are primarily working on. The receiving corps is one area that features perhaps the best hands in the Western Buckeye League.
Landon Rush and Jayden Cornell, both first-team all-WBL selections are back as well, as the sure-handed Brice Ellis.
“We have three that are headliners,” Fackler said. “I think it is unprecedented, and at least at Kenton it has never happened. Even when we went to state, it was never accomplished, and that is our two receivers make the first-team, all-WBL. We got three guys that have been in the arena that are quality guys, and any one in the league would like one of those guys.”
Unlike the offense, the defense does not have as many holes to fill. Fackler said they will be called on early in the season to set a tone. Last season, the Wildcat defense, due to injuries, had trouble stopping teams at times.
Nine returners are back on the defensive side of the ball.
The Wildcats are led on defense by the three seniors defensive linemen Luke Fackler, Eikenbary and Austin Moore. Fackler, who will move to linebacker, and Eikenbary are three- year starters that were second team all-league performers. Moore was also second team selection and is a two-year starter.
Also back on the line are Brandon Bowling, Cam Pulfer, Minter, Hurt as well as Jewett. In addition to Fackler at linebacker, junior Carter Bays returns as one of the outside linebacker positions. Colton Howard, Hayden Robinson and Heintz will compete at the linebacker position as well.
“All of our guys have gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” Fackler said. “We really think one of our keys is running to the football. It starts up front, and we think we have two really good defensive linemen coming back (Moore and Eikenbary), and we have two really good defensive linemen (Bowling and Pulfer) to add to those guys.”
At defensive back, the Wildcats return a bunch of returners that played throughout the season last year. Seniors Malik Jett and Julian Weaver are joined by Eversole and Landen West. All four DB’s started games last year and were joined by Cornell, Rush and Ellis.
Like the offense, Fackler said offensive players will be called upon to help with the defense but in limited capacities to maximize their energy.
Fackler admits the run and pass defenses must improve if the Wildcats are going to vie for a league crown.
“We can do a lot of different things, but we are thin and must stay healthy,” Fackler said. “We have always had strong defenses, but they have been overshadowed by our offenses. Last year that wasn’t the case, and the year before that it wasn’t the case, but our kids have made the commitment that they are going to run to the ball and have 11 people at the ball and make plays.”
Last season, the Wildcats posted a 6-4 season and a 6-3 mark in the league. Injuries and some bad bounces prevented Kenton from an 8-2 or 9-1 year, and Fackler is hoping with some experience back on defense and an excellent receiving unit, the Wildcats will thrive in 2019.
“You have to get off to a good start, and you have to get after it,” Fackler said. “We play Coldwater first, and that makes it tough right off the bat. … It is such a balanced league, and any team can beat any team on a given night. I think week in and week out you have to be prepared and mentally prepared.”