September 18, 2014

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High school football 2011: Keystone expects success

LAGRANGE — Confidence is high among the 60 players on the Keystone football roster, even if most people on the outside of the program don’t share such optimism.

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“We want to surprise everyone who says we’re going to (not be very good),” said Adam Bohach, a senior tackle and linebacker. “We want to show them we can compete with anyone and that we belong here.”

It’s understandable why so many in the Keystone community are not expecting much from the Wildcats.

There are only two letterwinners returning from a team that went 4-6 in 2010, the star running back had yet to attend practice as of Aug. 9 and the Wildcats are not blessed with a great deal of size.

“We’re a small team,” said Kyle Canfield, the other likely starting tackle. “We’re a new team. We’re starting fresh. We don’t have a lot of experience, but we’re learning fast. We have a lot of speed. We will need our speed and our technique to win games.”

“We’re supportive of each other,” said Matt Lamb, a senior linebacker. “This is a close group and we live in a close community where people look up to football players.”

The seniors see little reason Keystone should not win the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship.

“We look for that every year,” running back Brandon Grieve said. “That’s our goal, no matter what.”

Keystone went 2-2 in Stars games last year. The Wildcats outscored their divisional foes 52-35 and lost only 7-0 to champion Black River. The division has added Firelands to its lineup this fall.

Head coach Rob Clarico believes a title is possible if his Wildcats spend the first half of the season in on-the-job training. The coach hopes that by the middle of the season the first-string Wildcats won’t look like newbies.

“Our goal is to get these guys ready by Game 6,” Clarico said. “The good thing is that our final five games are our divisional games.”

The players will also need to prepare themselves mentally for playing on the next level.

“The hardest part isn’t finding people who can play,” Clarico said. “The hardest part is teaching them the tempo of a varsity game. These players have all played football for years. Obviously, no one has played on Friday nights before. It’s starting over for them, when the lights go on and the band starts playing and all that. It’s like nothing they’ve experienced.”

The two who have experienced it are Marcus Gunter and Kendle Stiner. They started at cornerback last season, which happened to be freshman year for both of them.

“Marcus is fast,” Clarico said. “We never held a race, but if we had I think he would have been the fastest one on the team.”

Gunter (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) returns to corner this season. He’ll also be the starting quarterback.

“The offense will be geared around the quarterback,” Clarico said. “We’re going to throw more and run Marcus to take advantage of his skills. He has good straight-ahead speed, but he is also athletic enough that he can change directions.”

Expect Gunter’s main targets to be big (6-5, 240) Chase Robison, the tight end, and wide receiver C. J. Rastetter (6-1, 215). Grieve, the running back, will also be called on to catch a few.

The defense revolves around the other returning letterman, Stiner (5-11, 190), who’s being switched to safety.

“The most important person in our defense is the safety,” Clarico explained. “He has to make all the defensive calls. Kendle is coming along nicely, although it’s a tough position to play.”

Jake Cooper, last year’s safety, is playing football at Ohio Northern University.

Most everything else is up for grabs, Clarico said, adding that while he expects good things to come this season, he’s very excited about the future.

“We only have five seniors,” he said. “If we can hold this team together we’ll have almost everyone back next year. We’ll have a lot of them for three years. The talent is there. We just don’t know when it’s going to click.”

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Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or stephenbyrne@att.net.