Kenton Ridge coach Joel Marratta walks the sideline during a game gainst Stebbins on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

Marratta reflects on 17 seasons at alma mater Kenton Ridge, his ‘dream job’

Jayden Davis has many good memories from four years of playing football at Kenton Ridge. Perhaps he’s forgotten some. But not head coach Joel Marratta’s pre-game speeches.

“Every time he started to talk everybody listened,” Davis said. “We gave that respect to him all four years of my football career. Those pre-game speeches meant a lot.”

Marratta gave those speeches for 17 seasons at his alma mater, but he’s given his last. Marratta retired from coaching after this past season as the school’s winningest coach, saying it’s simply time to pass the program on to someone else. Marratta’s replacement is Jon Daniels, who served the past two seasons as KR’s offensive coordinator.

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“I got back home to my dream job by the time I was 32,” Marratta said. “And I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get back to Kenton Ridge. That’s awesome.”

Marratta graduated from KR in 1988 and held the school’s single-game, single-season and career rushing records. His players broke all those records. As head coach his record was 102-74 with the school’s only four playoff appearances and two playoff wins. His final 10 teams finished .500 or better for a .625 winning percentage.

“I think he earned that right to go out on his own terms,” said athletic director Kris Spriggs, Marratta’s high school classmate. “He just said it was time and he wants to see what it’s like to have his own summers and not be occupied on Friday nights.”

Longtime Shawnee coach and friend Rick Meeks said, “He always had teams that were going to come out and be physical and be well-coached consistently even when the talent level was down. You knew going into that game their kids were going to be ready to play Shawnee.”

Marratta played fullback for one season and linebacker for three seasons at Division II Edinboro in western Pennsylvania. His first head coaching job was at East Clinton for three seasons before returning to KR as an assistant in 2001.

Two years later Marratta found a good situation when he took over for Bruce Schibler. Marratta, whose career record is 112-94, led the Cougars to their first playoff berth in his second season in 2004 and a 9-1 regular season. The Cougars beat Carlisle 6-0 in their playoff opener before falling to eventual Division IV runner-up Versailles.

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Marratta’s best run was three consecutive playoff trips from 2013-15 during a time when the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division was at its peak. The Cougars shared a league championship in 2014 and got the school’s second playoff victory in 2015 in a 33-28 upset at Jonathan Alder. The season ended the next week in a 28-21 loss to Bellevue.

“There was no selfishness,” Marratta said. “Nobody cared about their individual stats because all they cared about was winning.”

Davis, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his final two seasons, said the most important moment of the playoff run came in the final regular-season game of his junior year in 2014 at Tippecanoe during a halftime speech. The Cougars had a chance to finish as league co-champions, but they trailed 10-0. After assistant coach Keith Schneider and Marratta encouraged the team and left the room, the captains – Davis, quarterback Mitchell Schneider, Christian Smith – spoke to the team about how they couldn’t fumble this opportunity.

“That was the biggest change in our football history that halftime against Tipp,” Davis said.

The Cougars scored 19 points in the third quarter, taking the lead on Davis’ 15-yard run. Tipp missed a field goal at the end and the Cougars won 19-16. After the game while being interviewed, Davis brought his offensive line out and said, “Talk these guys. They make it all possible.”

The Cougars lost their final two games of 2015 but still made the playoffs at 7-3. Then they peaked.

Davis rushed for 347 yards in the playoff win over Alder. He had 121 yards the next week when his high school career ended. That loss was difficult, but now that he’s an all-league safety with one more year to play at Division II Ohio Dominican that loss stings a little less.

“Most people end their career with a loss, but I think seeing everything now it was a win in the end,” he said.

Marratta’s teams used to be run heavy like a lot of teams were. But in recent years he adapted to spread formations with quarterbacks who could run and throw.

“His willingness to put the work in in order to learn new philosophies and new schemes was very evident throughout his 17 years,” Meeks said. “That’s a testament to his success as a coach.”

The always self-effacing Marratta, however, doesn’t like to talk about those things. He says the technology in today’s game is for younger guys. He only recently upgraded his iPhone from a 4 to a 10.

“I guess I’m a little outdated,” he said. “I’m that computer that you throw in the trash that doesn’t run anymore because it doesn’t do anything.”

Marratta won’t talk about his records or accomplishments either. He won’t mention that he used to hold the school rushing records, once kicked three field goals in a game, qualified for the state tournament his only year on the wrestling team and qualified for the state track meet.

But he loves to talk about those playoff teams and the coaches he faced. He played against Meeks and former Tecumseh coach Kent Massie when those two played for Shawnee. They all graduated in 1988 and had many Friday night battles as coaches.

“The best part about the last 17 years, besides the relationships with the kids, is coaching against people that you played against when you were in high school,” Marratta said. “Guys that you consider a fraternity of brothers.”

Meeks will miss seeing Marratta at coaches meetings and that one time a year their rival schools meet. They would talk before going out to the field, and they would find each other again on the field during warmups. And when it was over?

“We all wanted to win, but there was never any ill feelings afterward,” Meeks said. “I was always gracious to him, win or lose, and he was always gracious to me. It was always fun to be involved with him.”

Post-game speeches? Yes, he’s done with those, too.

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