Kenton Ridge’s Dylan Lemen was a handful for opponents last season, and he could present even more problems after going through intense one-on-one workouts with new offensive coordinator Jon Daniels last spring.
The 2017 second-team All-Central Buckeye Conference quarterback prepared for this season by showing up at school at 7 a.m. in April and May for hour-long sessions with Daniels, who was Wittenberg’s assistant QB coach last season and is a former Urbana High School head coach.
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Though he passed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 1,125 yards and 11 scores a year ago, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound junior is hungry for improvement.
“He helped me read my progressions, reading the safeties and coverages. Along with that, we went to the gym and worked on all my footwork, the timing on routes, where to put the ball,” Lemen said.
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The Cougars will still run the spread offense, but with a Wittenberg twist. They plan to pick up the pace, having plays signaled in from the sidelines and snapping the ball before the defense is set.
“It gives me a lot of options throwing the ball, running the ball, creating and doing a variety of things. I love it,” Lemen said.
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He was plenty dangerous as the Cougars finished 6-4 last season. He had a combined 385 yards rushing and passing with five TDs against Stebbins, 413 with two scores against Urbana and 387 with three TDs against Northwestern.
“He can hurt you with his arm, and he can hurt you with his legs. And he’s surrounded with a good corps of skill guys he can get the ball to as well,” said KR coach Joel Marratta, who is in his 15th season.
“Dylan is just a complete athlete all around. He brings a different element to the table because you’ve got to stop him and just hope everyone else doesn’t hurt you.”
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Foes won’t have an easy time keeping everyone corralled. Junior running back Carson Jones, who was the CBC 100-meter champion last spring, took over the starting job midway through last season and finished with 619 yards in 78 attempts (7.9 per carry), and junior receiver Calvin Dibert was a first-team all-league pick after hauling in 26 passes for 400 yards and four TDs.
“Carson has proved he’s a go-to guy,” Marratta said. “He’s good downhill. He can out-run you. I don’t necessarily think he’s one of those shake-and-bake guys. He gets to the hash numbers outside, and you’ve just got to catch him.”
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The 6-1, 175-pound Dibert is part of bevy of capable receivers that includes senior Andrew Good and junior Drew Miller.
“Calvin is a big, strong kid,” Marratta said. “He just started playing in the eighth grade. We look for big things out of him also. He’s definitely a deep ball threat.”
The defense should be strong again after giving up 19.5 point per game. Among the top returnees is senior linebacker Brandon Collins, who earned second-team all-league honors.
The Cougars, who have 49 players (including freshmen) on the team, haven’t had a losing record since 2009, but they’ve missed the playoffs the last two years after reaching the postseason three straight seasons (2013-15) and four overall under Marratta.
“We’d like to start competing at the level we were three, four or five years ago, and we’ve challenged the kids to do that,” Marratta said. “Hopefully, we can get there.”
But Marratta, who is the school’s winningest coach with a 92-64 career record, is more concerned about the intangibles.
The Jayden Davis-led 2014 group, which went 8-4 and won a postseason game, set the standard for how he wants his teams to be.
“Three years ago, when we had that last playoff run, I don’t know if that was the best team we’ve ever had or just my favorite of all the ones I’ve coached,” he said. “We’ve had better records than 8-4. We’ve had a 10-2 team and a 9-2 team. And I wouldn’t say that group was the most talented. But they were the most fun to coach because they were very selfless.
“All they cared about was the success of the team, not themselves. I’d like to get back to that kind of culture.”