The Olentangy Liberty High School football team's passing game was destined to look different this season after Ben Roderick suffered a knee injury while competing for the boys basketball team in January.

Doing his best impression of Roderick the last two weeks has been another player whose No. 1 sport takes place inside a gym.

Senior Mitchell Kershner, who recently committed to play men's basketball at the Division III level for the University of Rochester, had seven receptions for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-0 victory Sept. 21 over Groveport.

Then in a 16-14 win Sept. 28 over Westerville Central, Kershner had a team-best six catches for 87 yards.

Liberty is 3-3 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division as it prepares to play Friday, Oct. 5, at Westerville South, which is 2-4 overall and 0-1 in the league after falling to Olentangy 21-10 on Sept. 28.

"(Kershner) always does things the right way and I can always trust him to be open when I need him to," senior quarterback Mitchell Okuley said. "He does a good job of finding gaps in the defense and it's easy to get him the ball."

Kershner also serves as the Patriots' kicker and has made six extra points and two field goals. Against the Warhawks, he missed a 45-yard field goal but kicked a 39-yarder to give Liberty a 10-7 lead.

Kershner also had a 19-yard reception during the Patriots' opening scoring drive.

His performances the last two weeks have come less than a month after he suffered a left hamstring injury during a 19-17 loss to Cleveland Glenville on Aug. 31.

Kershner did not play in a 23-14 victory over Marysville on Sept. 7 but returned to make four catches for 45 yards while not serving as the kicker in a 22-21 loss to Hilliard Davidson on Sept. 14.

He has 20 receptions for 300 yards on the season.

"I made a cut and my hamstring pulled a little bit (against Glenville)," Kershner said. "It's not 100 percent, but every week it's getting better. There's been a lot of adversity with injuries. This past week we had hand, foot and mouth disease passed around some of the guys on our team so there's definitely been a next-man-up mentality.

"(The Groveport game) was probably the best game I've had. Coming into the game, we spent a lot of time on film and with a game plan to attack their zone defense, and I got open a lot."

Kershner had 33 receptions for 433 yards and three touchdowns last season to complement Roderick, who has been recovering from knee surgery and hopes to return to sports this winter. Roderick had 47 receptions for 644 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall.

Others who have helped fill the receiving void include Chase Miley (16 receptions for 135 yards), Jake Sincek (8 receptions for 102 yards) and Kyle Wilson (14 receptions for 221 yards, 1 TD).

Running back Aidan Kenley has eight catches for 151 yards and one touchdown in addition to rushing for 395 yards and one score.

Okuley missed nearly two games with an injury after getting hurt during a 17-0 loss to Pickerington North on Aug. 24.

Kershner's father, Kevin, played football for Westerville North and went on to play for Ohio University, but Mitchell is looking forward to plotting his own path in college basketball.

He's also hoping to help Liberty return to its postseason level of the last two seasons, when it reached Division I state semifinals.

"We've gotten off to a little bit of a slow start, especially since (Okuley) got hurt," Kershner said. "Our goal is that we need to focus on making the playoffs and focus on taking one game at a time and hopefully getting far again."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek