Kenton Ridge’s Michael Sloan tackles Mechanicsburg quarterback Aaron Conley in the second quarter on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Mechanicsburg. David Jablonski/Staff

Kenton Ridge coach ‘full steam ahead’ as 2020 season approaches

Jon Daniels entering his first season as head coach of Cougars

Jon Daniels is the new head coach of the Kenton Ridge football program, but he’s not new to the program. Two years with the Cougars as the offensive coordinator on Joel Marratta’s staff has made a big difference in 2020.

“I was able to hit the ground running,” said Daniels, a South High School graduate who played on the defensive line at Wittenberg. “I’m not sure how you can command and control something being a new coach this year. In the middle of March, all of a sudden your offseason program is non-existent.”

With schools closed and in-person contact between coaches and athletes prohibited throughout the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Daniels worked with his staff to provide home workouts for the players. He credited strength and conditioning coach Zach Kress and former Cougar Mitchell Schneider, who was an intern on Ohio State’s strength staff last season, for getting creative and helping the players stay in shape.

“I’m kind of a fly on the wall,” Daniels said, “and just in awe some of the things they come up with.”

One workout had the players fill backpacks with weights or even water bottles and do lunges, squats, push-ups, etc., while wearing the backpack.

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Of course, now the Cougars are back to using the real weights at the high school. They return to workouts in early June after the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced teams could resume training at their facilities.

Although teams were allowed to resume full-contact workouts Monday, along with intrasquad scrimmages, Kenton Ridge had not advanced to that phase of the return-to-play plan as of Wednesday. Daniels was awaiting word from the Clark County Combined Health District as to when or if he could proceed.

In the meantime, Daniels will continue to get asked a lot about whether he thinks there will be a football season.

“I am full steam ahead assuming we’re going to get a football season in,” he said. “If you sit and watch the headlines, you could find ways to get discouraged about it, and it could take away from what you’re doing day in and day out. But what I communicate to our team is we can’t control those things. What we can control is preparing like we’re going to play a really good football team out the gate like Mechanicsburg. If we focus on that, then everything else will take care of itself. So that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m hopeful. I think being able to progress into the competitive stuff this week or next is probably a step in the right direction.”

Kenton Ridge finished 5-5 last season and graduated quarterback Dylan Lemen, who ranked second in the Central Buckeye Conference with 19 touchdown passes, and Calvin Dibert, who led the conference with 982 receiving yards.

“Last year, the returners were a bunch of skilled guys,” Daniels said. “This year’s group’s a little different.”

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Five linemen who started or received serious playing time return, which makes Daniels feel good about his depth up front on both sides of the ball. Another top returner will be senior Seth Anderson, who Daniels said is as good as any linebacker he has coached.

One of the skilled players who does return is running back Matt Wichael, who rushed 62 times for 412 yards. Daniels said one of his biggest regrets last season was not getting him more touches.

“He didn’t have stats that his talents and work ethic really deserved,” Daniels said, “but I think he’s a pretty dang good player.”

The quarterback most likely to replace Lemen is junior Noah Moore, who appeared in two games. Daniels compared Moore’s work ethic to his former South teammate, quarterback Chris Clark, who led some dynamic offenses for the Wildcats in the early 2000s.

“He has really bought into the position and bought into the extra work,” Daniels said “In fact he texted me yesterday as we were leaving the field and said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to have a net up because I can’t get work on my own right now.’ So he is driving the horse on me to get caught up here so he come get some work tomorrow morning.”

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