Rovers ready to hit the ground running

·5 min read

ROOTSTOWN — A new starting quarterback.

A new set of starting receivers.

All of that change would stress plenty of coaches out.

Not Chris Knopick.

Returning his top two running backs from last season and six offensive linemen with starting experience, the Rootstown coach can sleep easy.

"It's nice going into a season, knowing that's something you can rely on," Knopick said. ""I've been in situations where you couldn't rely on the run game. I've been there and it's a bad feeling, but to know you can consistently get five yards, it's a great feeling, and that's what we're hanging our hat on this year."

Senior Cody Coontz is a master at consistently getting yardage up the middle, turning 169 carries into 836 yards last season.

Fellow senior Branden Bobbs is a speed demon, with the ability to take carries, wreak havoc in the screen game and run routes.

Add on left tackle Tony Karp, left guard Linden White, center Brian Youngblood, right guard Kyle Kuharich, right tackle Dominic Siglow and H-back Drew Nero — all of whom started multiple games on the Rovers' line last season — and there's reason to feel confident that the Rovers will be able to move the ball.

"It will take time to gel with our receivers and our quarterbacks, but with Cody in the backfield and Brendan Bobbs running the ball as well, we can focus more on quick game, get [Brendan] the ball, spread him out, get Cody and the run game going," Knopick said. "That's where we feel the most confident is all those guys up the middle returning and it's a huge safety blanket as a coach."

Rootstown senior Cody Coontz worked on his explosiveness during the offseason

After averaging a healthy 4.95 yards per carry last season and earning first team all-conference honors, Cody Coontz could have rested on his laurels.

After qualifying for the state wrestling tournament in March, Coontz could have taken some time away to bask in his accomplishments.

He did nothing of the sort.

"Ever since wrestling left, I just went straight to the weight room," Coontz said. "Ever since then, I just got faster, bigger, gained a lot of weight."

The main focus this offseason, per Knopick, was to work on Coontz's "home-run pop," and Bobbs has already noticed the difference.

"We started doing 40 times in June and he looks a lot quicker," Bobbs said. "He's obviously put on a lot of muscle as well, but he definitely looks a lot more explosive. I expect him to break some long runs this year for sure."

Bobbs knows a thing or two about long runs, of course, as a leading big-play threat for the Rovers for quite some time.

"Brendan is so shifty," Knopick said. "He's a guy that can take it to the house at any time, so we've kind of played him at slot receiver a lot throwing the ball and we'll bring him in the backfield sometimes to take his skill set there, but it allows us to make people defend the entire width of the field."

Bobbs will likely find himself playing a little more receiver than back this year, after skewing in the opposite direction in 2021.

"I like it a lot," Bobbs said. "I think I can use my speed more, be more versatile that way."

Tony Karp headlines powerful Rootstown offensive line

Both Bobbs and Coontz will get to run behind a Rovers' line that features a first team all-district standout in left tackle Tony Karp.

"Tony did a great job last year," Knopick said. "He's just solid. He always does the right thing. [We're] trying to develop that mean streak, get him to finish people, but he's just worked his butt off in the weight room. [He's] strong as an ox."

Drew Nero also earned all-district honors (honorable mention) last season though he'll play more of an H-back role this year, while left guard Linden White started every game last season and was named second team all-league.

Moving along the line, Kyle Kuharich started at center before injuring his thumb midway through last season. With Kuharich thus unable to snap the ball, Brian Youngblood replaced Kuharich midway through the 2021 campaign and will remain at center this season, while Kuharich will hold down the right guard spot.

Right tackle Dominic Siglow was the most recent addition, entering the starting five late last season, but he already had extensive experience as the sixth lineman in the Rovers' "Thunder" package that they used roughly 30 percent of the time.

"We were pretty young last year, so to bring everyone back was really good," Bobbs said. "I think they faced a lot of tough opponents, Spencer Mesaros, Tyler Knight, those type of guys, so I think we're much more experienced than we were last year."

The hope is that experience helps the Rovers shake off a second straight sub-.500 season last year (after posting a winning record the prior four years).

"After last season, it was just a bitter taste in our mouth with the way we performed," Bobbs said. "Bringing a lot of the same guys back and this group that we have here, I mean we've been pretty successful throughout our whole lives we've been playing with each other, so we kind of know the expectation and it's just about executing, going out there and doing what we can do."

Rootstown junior Cody Coontz looks for a running lane with the ball. The Rootstown Rovers hosted the Warren JFK Catholic Eagles Friday night at Robert C. Dunn Field. The Rovers fell to the Eagles 48-7.
Rootstown junior Cody Coontz looks for a running lane with the ball. The Rootstown Rovers hosted the Warren JFK Catholic Eagles Friday night at Robert C. Dunn Field. The Rovers fell to the Eagles 48-7.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Branden Bobbs, Cody Coontz, Rootstown ready to hit the ground running