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Position switch pays off for Wittenberg’s Kayser

Senior linebacker started career at running back

Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham asks seniors to speak to freshmen players at group study halls every season.

Jack Kayser filled that role Wednesday, talking to his younger teammates about his journey over the last four seasons and advising them about how to deal with all the things they’re experiencing for the first time.

“Papers are coming due,” Fincham said. “Midterms are coming up. We’re getting ready to go into our third ballgame. We’ve got our third JV game on Sunday. A lot of things are piling up on them.”

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Fincham couldn’t have found a better speaker. Kayser didn’t play much as a freshman. He was stuck behind two senior running backs as a sophomore. Last season, he switched to linebacker and earned a first-team All-North Coast Athletic Conference honor in his first season at his new position, which he had not played since he was a senior at Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth.

“He’s a worker and a competitor and a fighter,” Fincham said. “If you had 100 of that guy, holy smokes.”

Kayser ranked third on the team last season with 103 tackles. Through two games this season, he ranks sixth with nine tackles.

Kayser is one of four captains for No. 16 Wittenberg (2-0, 1-0), which plays at Kenyon (0-3, 0-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The others are senior defensive end Chandler Ferko, junior quarterback Jake Kennedy and junior running back DeShawn Sarley.

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Kayser focused on himself last season. Now he has more responsibilities. Talking to the class of freshmen, which included his brother Sam, is one.

“It is an honor, but at the same time, it is more of an obligation,” Jack said. “Coach Fincham said it best. No one should be saying, ‘Oh great, I’m a captain.’ They should be saying, ‘Oh crap, I’m a captain.’ You’ve got an obligation. If anything goes bad, it’s on us first.”

Kayser’s brother is making an early impact as a freshman. Sam caught a 57-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Saturday in a 34-0 victory over Oberlin at Edwards-Maurer Field.

Sam is the first freshman from the largest class in Wittenberg history to get in the end zone and one of the first to receiving significant playing time. The class numbered 90 in the summer and now includes 68 players, according to the roster on Wittenberg’s website.

Jack was the first player to greet Sam in the end zone after his score. Jack was on the PAT unit so had a good reason to rush onto the field to congratulate him.

“I just told him, ‘You’re still not as good as me,’ or something like that,” Jack said.

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Jack scored a touchdown as a backup running back two seasons ago but gave up the chance to score with regularity when he switched to linebacker. Fincham first talked to him about the switch the spring before his junior season.

“I called him in and said, ‘This is what we’re thinking,’” Fincham said. “We were thin at some spots on defense and wanted to move him. He looked like somebody shot his dog. I didn’t tell him to do it. I encouraged him to do it and give it a shot. If things didn’t work out, we could move him back.”

Kayser called the change the best decision he has made.

“If coach Fincham tells you he thinks it’s best for you, it’s best for you,” Kayser said.

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