Speed and toughness highlight Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Experienced players powered by track and wrestling standouts

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Kennedy has its own version of the Fast and the Furious.

These Cougars can run and they also have a hard-nosed approach. You’ll get that when you tap into speed from accomplished track runners and draw from toughness of wrestlers.

“We probably have six, seven, eight guys that will be starting for us that have hung state or Drake Relays medals around their necks and if you’re wearing a medal from Drake or state you’ve got some speed,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “We have that gritty, understanding leverage, down-and-dirty, willing to make a single-leg takedown tackle if we have to attitude up front and on defense.”

In addition to the speed and toughness, Kennedy will rely on a wealth of experience to improve on last year’s 5-4 finish that kept it out of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

White said he emphasizes multisport participation instead of a year-round focus solely on football. The encouragement to compete during the offseason is expected to pay huge dividends for the Cougars this fall.

“You can be a multisport athlete,” White said. “We don’t specialize. We want you to do as much as you can while you can.”

According to White, track has helped contribute to one of the fastest football teams at Kennedy. They have it all over from the skill positions to the trenches, where defensive lineman Zach Packingham qualified for the Drake Relays in the 100-meter dash.

Starting quarterback B.J. White and Terrell Jordan were on the shuttle hurdle relay, last year’s leading rusher Keyshawn Allers and defensive back/wide receiver Marco Shanklin are sprinters and sophomore running back Cairron Hendred may be the Cougars’ fastest player.

“We just have speed all over the field,” White said. “Offense, defense and the skill positions.”

Preview: Despite graduating a ton of talent, Prairie expects continued success

Wrestling has just as much of an impact, creating a nasty edge for many of the defensive players and linemen.

Linebacker Ben Sarasin is a two-time state medalist, placing third and fourth the last two years, He is a three-time state qualifier with a 104-19 career mark. Middle linebacker Cade Parker posted a winning record as a part-time starter as a freshman. He was a Mississippi Valley Conference junior varsity champion, finishing the season behind 182-pound state medalist Garrett Kubovec. Parker also was a state qualifier in the discus with Cam Jones. Defensive lineman Josh Vis wrestled, as well.

Defender Brock Hromidko and sophomore lineman Nolan Jacobs wrestled previously and still show that wrestler’s mentality.

“They come out and battle,” B.J. White said. “They just have that in them. I don’t know what they’re teaching them in the wrestling room, but it is working. They definitely have the fight in them. It’s showing out here on the football field.”

The Cougars return their top passer from a year ago. B.J. White completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, throwing for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also led the team in yards from scrimmage, adding 277 on the ground.

Kennedy’s top two rushers from a year ago are back, too. Allers ran for 440 yards and a TD. Rizaiha Maide added 435 and a team-high 11 rushing TDs, which was nearly half of the team total.

Ki Jenkins is the top returning receiver with 280 yards and two scores. Jenkins also averaged more than 21 yards per punt return. He returned two for TDs, including a long of 69 yards.

They have more weapons to add into the mix.

“We have nine or 10 guys that you can put on the field and they can score at any time,” B.J. White said. “There will be a lot of people touching the ball this year. It’s awesome being able to look in any direction and find someone you want to throw to.”

Hromidko and Sarasin are the top returning tacklers. Each had more than 31 stops a year ago. Parker is expected to be a leader playing in the middle of the defense. Sarasin also had an interception and Hromidko led the 2016 squad with three fumble recoveries.

Kennedy owned the Metro’s longest active streak, reaching the postseason 11 straight seasons. The streak snapped last season after a third-place finish behind state runner-up Iowa City West and Cedar Rapids Prairie.

The Cougars are looking to start a new playoff streak. They have all the ingredients for a successful season.

“We’re very hungry,” Sarasin said. “We (seniors) have always been a talented team but we’ve never been able to quite get it. We’ve always been missing something. I think with the younger kids, I think we have a recipe for success and can get redemption.”

The Cougars have hit the ground running, meshing during preseason workouts. Their work ethic and enthusiasm has allowed them to progress quickly into more complicated schemes earlier, according to White. The key will be to keep making those big strides throughout the season.

“It’s a fun team to coach,” White said. “We’ve got great numbers. We have great depth. We have a little bit of everything.

“They are a fun group. If we can keep improving the way we have been improving, it will be fun to watch this year.”

Fast and furious fun.

Kennedy, at a glance

Coach: Brian White (4th season, 21-13)

Last year: 5-4 (Did not qualify; third in district)

Top returning letterwinners: QB B.J. White, WR Ki Jenkins, RB Keyshawn Allers, RB Rizaiha Maide, LB Ben Sarasin, LB/DB Brock Hromidko, DB Terrell Jordan Jr., DL Zach Packingham, K Alex Stone.

Key losses: LB Johnson Mator, OL Jackson Coker, LB Garrett Kubovec, DL Sam Pape, WR Payton McCarty, Utility Nic Duehr.

Key to making the playoffs: The emphasis is to finish games. The Cougars did it in 2015, reaching the state title game. They can’t surrender leads or fall behind late in games like a year ago.

Games to watch: Road games at Iowa City West and Cedar Rapids Prairie will have huge playoff implications. Kennedy hosts Linn-Mar in a district game on Sept. 29 will be interested with new Lions head coach Paul James, who hired White as an assistant at Cedar Rapids Washington.

Schedule

Aug. 25 — at Muscatine

Sept. 1 — Cedar Rapids Washington

Sept. 7 — Dubuque Hempstead

Sept. 15 — at Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Sept. 22 — at Burlington

Sept. 29 — Linn-Mar

Oct. 6 — at Iowa City West

Oct. 13 — Ottumwa

Oct. 20 — at Cedar Rapids Prairie

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

Watch: Scenes from Kennedy football practice

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