KENTON – After a five-year absence, Kenton returned to the playoffs and captured its first Western Buckeye League title in six years co-sharing the honors with an 8-1 record in the league and an 8-3 mark overall.
And with seven returners on one of the most potent offenses in Northwest Ohio many might assume the Wildcats are poised for another big season, however, Brent Fackler said if they are going to accomplish a winning season they will need to fill big holes on the defensive side of the ball and re-establish leadership roles.
“We had a great group of seniors and great senior leadership and just the right amount of underclassmen to sprinkle in with them,” Fackler said. “We are really going to miss some of those guys but I think we have a good nucleus.”
Fackler added that those players coming back will need to repeat what they accomplished as well as develop into leaders both on and off the field.
“We think coming off last season we have some great players but we definitely need to fill in some places,” Fackler said. “I felt kind of like we got back on track last year and back where we want to be and it was a pretty good season. To share a WBL championship and to beat the other team you shared it with that is a big deal.”
Offensively, the Wildcats returns one of the most productive passing tandems in the WBL in Blaine Huston and Jayden Cornell. Huston, all-WBL first team selection and first-team, all-Northwest district selection and second team All-Ohio passed for more than 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns. Cornell, a first-team, all-WBL, first-team All Northwest District and second team, all-Ohio choice, led the WBL in receiving yards for the third straight season with 77 catches for 1,281 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Receivers Landon West and Jake Eversole also are back as key receivers for the Wildcats. Eversole finished the year with 51 catches for 651 yards and six touchdowns.
Up front, Fackler said there are two returners back on the offensive line and they might go to the defensive side the of the ball to get some help to protect the quarterback.
Defensively, Cornell’s talents were not limited to the offensive side of the ball after being tagged a first-team, All-WBL performer in the defensive backfield. Joining Cornell in the secondary will be Eversole and West.
“Jake (Eversole) is going to be tremendous for us,” Fackler said. “He unbelievable this year because he is healthy again. He is going to be a tremendous receiver and defensive back for us. He is a playmaker and is going to be a leader.”
The front seven sees the return of Cameron Pulfer, Brandon Bowling, Gunnar Stout on the defensive line and linebackers Zach Heintz. Carter Bays, a three-year starter, was lost to an ACL injury earlier this year.
Fackler adds that Pulfer, who was considered an unknown commodity last year, reallydeveloped into one of the league’s top defensive players.
Because the pandemic erased preseason and scrimmages, Fackler said the team is hurt on both sides of the football.
“That is our key thing,” Fackler said. “We were able to start doing seven on sevens at one point this summer and by late June and early July we have everything down. We have played enough against good competition and high level athletes. It hurt us tremendous. I mean that is our offense and defensively that is how we become better as well in past defense so it was a huge blow not being able to play seven on seven.”
Having a quarterback and some experience back in the receiving corps does help the Wildcats coming into the season.
“He (Huston) has gotten a lot stronger,” Fackler said. “He was doing some lifting at home and he really worked hared and is much physically stronger than he was last year and throwing the ball really well. And just his leadership and knowing the offense and knowing where he needs to go with the ball. Thlose things are huge.”
Without this additional work Fackler said the early part of the season will key in evaluating the team’s strengths and weaknesses while trying to adjust to the other team on the fly.
“You get used to what you are doing and how you are doing things and playing against your offense and your defense and now you have to adapt and as we all know scout teams are giving you that great a look,” Fackler. “It is going to be so crucial those first few games, getting back in the saddle and knowing how they are going to react.”
Leadership will be an essential component on the development of the Wildcats. Fackler said there is a lot of tremendous seniors but they will be called on to assist the younger players including the 30 freshmen who are the roster this season.
“That is the largest number we have ever had since I have been here and that was in 1985 and I am sure it is a lot longer than that.,” Fackler said. “It is a good group. I don’t know how many of those guys are going to see the field on Friday night but there is some talented players that have a chance.”
Fackler adds that this is where he needs his seniors to be mentors.
“We talk about being a family and having a family and we have the ability now to have those younger siblkings and there is a whole bunch of them and its a family and those seniors will need to step down and teach them,” Fackler said. “Last year’s senior did a great job going down and working with those younger kids and I think we have something rolling there.”