Kuhner pleased despite distractions
In a season full of distractions, Whitehall-Yearling High School football coach Jake Kuhner was pleased with his team's dedication.
Whitehall played its home games at neutral sites because of a renovation project at the high school. It practiced at city-operated John A. Bishop Memorial Park, which is a little more than a mile from the school.
The Rams finished 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the MSL-Ohio Division.
"We had a lot of distractions this year with a different school location (for home games) and practice location, but I thought the kids did a good job," said Kuhner, who was named coach in June, replacing Greg Lahr. "We had a lot of injuries this year as well, and that was probably the toughest part of the season because we had to switch kids to different positions and there was no consistency from game to game."
Lahr resigned May 30 after four seasons with the program.
"Going from an assistant coach to a head coach was a lot different because it was more than just coaching the kids," Kuhner said. "I had to do all the other things that had nothing to do with coaching. Being close with coach Lahr and communicating with our athletics director, Mike Ferguson, constantly really helped me out this year."
The Rams opened the season with a 40-7 win over Central Crossing on Aug. 24 at Bexley, but then lost five consecutive games.
Whitehall snapped that losing streak with a 24-6 win over Lakewood on Oct. 5 at Bexley.
The Rams closed the season with a 28-10 win over host Bexley on Oct. 26.
"We were very pleased with our last game against Bexley," Kuhner said. "We put in the 'Wildcat' the last game and we had a successful night with 356 yards on the ground."
Senior running back Isaiah Turner ran for 100 yards on 22 carries against Bexley and finished the season with 932 yards rushing.
Turner, one of 10 seniors on the team, was first-team all-league and second-team all-district in Division III.
"We did not get him the ball at the beginning of the year like we should have, but the last half of the season we fed it to him a lot and he responded," Kuhner said.
Junior defensive back B.J. Upchurch was first-team all-district and all-league.
Senior Alex Farrow (OL/DL), junior Nick Wright (TE/LB) and sophomore Cameron Barker (TB/LB) were second-team all-league.
Kuhner expects Wright to join junior Shaquille Alexander (RB/LB) in the backfield next season.
"Our expectations were really high and we didn't fulfill them, so it wasn't a good season," Wright said. "We set ourselves with really high goals coming off that good season last year (6-4) and it didn't pan out like we wanted it to."
Alexander, sophomore Brandon Buchert (OL/DL) and freshman Darrion Sanders (WR/LB) were honorable mention all-league.
Sophomore Tristen Ritchie replaced junior Cody Koons at quarterback in a 34-7 loss to Licking Valley on Sept. 14 and steadily improved, according to Kuhner.
"Tristen did a good job for us and he has a strong arm," Kuhner said.
"Cody is coming back next year at wide receiver and we expect those two to be a big part of our offense, especially with five starting linemen coming back next year."
The Rams' defense forced 27 turnovers.
Barker had 45 solo tackles and assisted on 15. Turner had 35 solo tackles, assisted on 19 and forced four fumbles.
Kuhner said other key defensive players expected to return are sophomores Dassan Jefferson (DB) and Kevin Williams (DB).
In the league, Whitehall finished sixth behind champions Granville, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic, which tied for first at 6-1. Rounding out the standings were Columbus Academy (4-3), Heath (3-4), the Rams, Bexley (1-6) and Lakewood (0-7).
Next season, the Rams will compete in the MSL-Ohio with Academy, Bexley, Grandview, London, Madison Plains, West Jefferson and Worthington Christian.
"We have a new league, new school and a home football field next year, and we expect to be a solid team competing for a league title," Kuhner said.