Kenyon Commins is sure his Ross High School football team is much improved over the 1-9 Rams of 2017.
What that means in terms of wins and losses this season … well, the second-year head coach will just let that play out on the field.
“We’ll define our own success,” Commins said. “If our success is 5-5, it’s 5-5. If it’s 6-4, it’s 6-4. We’re big on YFP — you’ve got to reach your full potential. What our full potential is, I don’t know. I’m not going to put a ceiling on it, and I’m not going to set a basement either.
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“These guys have a chance to create their own destiny. I’m still waiting for some people to explode out and show out a little bit more, but our whole goal this year was for them to understand the idea of comfort vs. commitment. They need to be comfortable being uncomfortable and pushing themselves a little bit further.”
Ross is looking to step forward offensively after scoring just 13 points per game last season using the triple-option attack.
Commins said the triple will continue to be the Rams’ offensive system.
“The offense is by far where we’ve made our biggest gains this year,” he said. “When you’re in your first year of the triple and it looks bad, it looks like you have no idea what you’re doing. When it looks good, it looks really good. But sometimes when it looks good, they’re still not doing the right things. We’re doing a better job with it across the board this year.”
It all starts at quarterback, and Commins said he’s still deciding between sophomore C.J. Boze (5-10, 150) and junior Ethan Hall (5-11, 175). Boze was the starting QB on the freshman squad that won the Southwest Ohio Conference title last year.
“That’s a 50-50 decision right now,” said Commins, noting that Hall is a more experienced varsity athlete, while Boze has more natural ability in the triple option.
“Ethan’s very intelligent. He’s got what coaches call football savvy. C.J. reads the triple extremely well. He gets lost behind the line, which is nice. It’s very difficult to get a solid hit on him. But he’s a sophomore, and with that comes some growing pains and headaches.
“So do you play it safe where everything’s going to be just OK, or do you roll the dice and let the young buck see what he can do? That’s the decision we have to make.”
Hall is a returning wingback and will likely play there if he’s not the quarterback. Senior Dylan Caldwell (5-10, 190) is back at fullback after leading Ross with 727 rushing yards last year.
Commins said he’s got a lot of quality runners, including sophomore Jackson Gifford (5-8, 195) at fullback, and senior Dylan Zimmerman (5-10, 155) and junior Mehki Bouldin (5-10, 185) at wingback.
The receivers are senior Nick Arno (5-11, 160), and juniors Aaron Smith (5-6, 155) and Ethan Gerhardt (5-8, 155).
Seniors Trevor VanVliet (6-3, 240) and Taylor Polly (6-0, 215) are back on the offensive line, as is junior Keith Colyer (6-5, 265). VanVliet will play tackle, Polly center and Colyer guard this year.
Also in the O-line mix are sophomores Kaden Rogers (6-3, 245), Will Mischke (6-1, 225) and Nathaniel Seidholz (6-2, 270). Senior Logan Iams (6-2, 190) and sophomore Tanner Meale (6-1, 215) are competing at tight end.
“We are pretty big up front and athletic. We’re not sloppy,” Commins said. “The coaches have done a phenomenal job with those guys. It’s been fun to watch that group grow.”
Defensively, Ross is staying with a 50 slant-and-angle approach.
Commins really likes his secondary, where seniors Ryan Price (6-2, 200), Sean Lange (6-1, 180) and Jordan Hodge (5-11, 165) — and juniors Owen Severance (5-8, 165) and Tyler Uhl (5-8, 185) — all have starting experience. And sophomore Casey Redemeier (5-9, 150) is also pushing for a spot.
“I can’t talk about the back half of our defense enough,” Commins said. “The communication has been off the charts.”
Iams returns at inside linebacker, and senior Charles Smith (5-8, 180) and Meale are battling for the other inside position. Senior Micah Levitsky (6-0, 190), junior Jack DePrie (5-10, 190) and junior Will Palmer (5-10, 170) lead the outside backers.
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Senior Garrett Boyle (6-0, 200) and junior Ethan Mills (5-9, 215) are experienced defensive tackles. Senior Andrew Redemeier (6-1, 235) returns after playing on the D-line and at tight end last year, and senior Garrett Morgan (6-3, 265) is also showing well.
“I have been more proud of Garrett Morgan than probably anybody in the workroom in the offseason,” Commins said. “He completely changed his body, lost some weight and just flat got after it.”
Junior L.J. Neumaier, a soccer player, and Gerhardt are competing for the place-kicking job. Andrew Redemeier and Gerhardt are punting candidates.
Ross hasn’t had a winning season since 2013. The Rams, who were voted last in the preseason SWOC coaches poll, will travel to Wyoming for their final scrimmage Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We haven’t earned anything other than last place. Until we do, that’s where we deserve to be,” Commins said. “If you don’t like it, get better. Work. That dirty little four-letter word isn’t used enough, and we use it every day. If you don’t like where you are, work. If you don’t like where you are in life, work. If you don’t like the house you’ve got, work. Keep working and eventually you’ll get there.
“I love the competition at the positions. There’s a lot of young guys really pushing older guys. We’re a lot stronger as a team this year, and I think we’re very skilled at the skilled spots.
“I feel good about where we are … I don’t feel great. We’ve still got a ways to go before Game 1. I want to see us become a lot more tenacious and physical. They’ve got to want to become the bully on the block, so to speak. I want to see that physicality jump off at me.”
Coach: Kenyon Commins, second season (1-9)
OHSAA designation: Division III, Region 12
Playoff history: 0-6 in 6 appearances (1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2009, 2011)
2017 record: 1-9 overall, 0-6 in the Southwest Ohio Conference (seventh)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — Badin, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — at Monroe, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — Western Brown, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — Harrison, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — at Mount Healthy, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — Edgewood, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — at Northwest, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — Little Miami, 7 p.m.; Oct. 18 — vs. Meadowdale at Welcome Stadium, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — Talawanda, 7 p.m.