Smooth transition at Bryan

By KEVIN EIS Published:

BRYAN -- Just a few months shy of a year ago, Kevin Kline had a difficult decision to make.

Then the head football coach at Edgerton and coming off a playoff berth after helping turn a struggling program into a postseason contender in four seasons at the helm, Kline's daily routine of residing in Defiance, teaching in the Bryan school system and coaching at Edgerton left him spread a bit thin.

As a result, the father of two young boys decided to step down at the end of last season to regroup and consider other options.

"It was hard to leave Edgerton, honestly," recalled Kline. "I had good relationships with people over there and I liked that community a lot. I was just trying to consolidate some things in my personal life."

But when Golden Bears head coach Travis Cooper - who had also transformed the Bryan program into a playoff threat for the first time in school history in '09 - decided to make the move to Wauseon, Kline found a more cohesive option presenting itself much sooner than expected.

With an experienced coaching staff mostly still intact and plenty of talent on the awaiting roster, Kline decided to seriously consider returning to the program in which he had previously spent nine years holding a wide variety of coaching positions.

With a little encouragement where it mattered most, of course.

"When the job came open, it was one of those things where I talked with my wife (Laura) and my family, and she was really one of the driving forces behind me saying let's go and try this again," Kline said. "I really was a little uncertain about what would happen and how people would treat me coming back, but they've been very good to me coming back over here. So it's been a very positive move."

The ensuing outcome has been positively undeniable thus far, as the Bears are off to a blazing 6-0 start (their best since '95) while sitting at 4-0 in the NWOAL, just a game behind unbeaten Liberty Center. In addition, Kline's crew is currently sitting at number six in the D-III, Region 10 computer rankings in position to control their own destiny.

Just don't expect him to take any credit.

Pointing out a dedicated roster led by 12 seniors and a host of gifted underclassmen, the new Bryan mentor is more than willing to give praise where it is due.

"The funny thing is that I'm talking like I did a whole bunch, but I really haven't," admitted Kline, who brought a spread offense and 3-5-3 defensive scheme with him to his old stomping grounds. "Coop left a pretty good foundation for me and, obviously, if you've been around high school sports enough you know that you win with kids. Right now we've got some pretty good athletes. I feel fortunate that they've bought into what I was bringing over and they've bought into what the other coaches are presenting in front of them. That has more to do with our success than anything else."

In a reversal of respect, the players see it differently, as is explained by seniors Derek Hug and Matt Chaney. Having prior experience with Kline as a teacher and through football camps in their younger years, the pair reflected on how the team welcomed their new head coach.

"We were all really excited for him to come in," said Hug, the inside linebacker/wide receiver/tight end who leads the Bears with 6.5 sacks, "(It was) a new atmosphere and a new coach. We were all really looking forward to the opportunity of having him as our coach."

Added Chaney: "We came in, found out coach Kline was our coach and were just ready to work hard. We just wanted to basically show up and show him that we could do it and prove it to ourselves and everybody else, preparing for the season just like everybody else does for the season."

Handling the punting and kicking duties as well as playing an offensive role at receiver, Chaney is 4-of-4 on field-goal attempts, hitting 23-of-25 extra points and averaging 48.7 yards per kickoff as well as 37.5 per punt.

"We don't focus on one certain aspect of the game … we try to be a well-rounded team," said the senior kicker. "You've got to have all aspects of the game working well, so we work on special teams, offense and defense every day."

According to the numbers, this has not been a problem at Bryan this season.

Through six games, the Golden Bears' proficient offense is averaging 335 yards per game, led by 739 total yards rushing and 484 yards passing by junior QB Collin Bacon. Complimenting the offensive stats nicely is a defensive average of 230 yards allowed per contest, including just 481 total on the ground.

The Bryan defense is spearheaded by 52 tackles out of sophomore linebacker Brock Minor and an impressive seven picks by sophomore DB Brandon Poncsak.

"We work hard at all three phases," stressed Kline. "A lot of people take care of the offense or the defense, but we spend quite a bit of time at our practices going through our special teams stuff.

"Obviously having a weapon like Matt helps ease a lot of your kicking tension. Our kids take it pretty seriously all the way around, and I think we prepare pretty well in all three phases. I don't think we're perfect … we still have some things to clean up, but we do work hard at trying to be good and efficient in all areas."

That is made possible by a coaching staff with more than 50 years of experience in John Minor (defensive coordinator), Dick Kuszmaul (assistant coach) and assistants Brian Cooper, Tom Goodrich, Robbie Lakes, Brian DeGroff, Jimmy Phillips and Ryan Jones.

"This staff is very good," Kline emphasized. "These guys put in a lot of time and they work extremely hard. I've been very fortunate with coach Minor having a lot of coaching experience before and being a D-coordinator for a long time with what he's brought to the table. Coach Kuszmaul's been around for a long time, and then we got Brian Cooper out of Rossford. He was a D-coordinator there.

"It's nice to get guys in that like football as much as you do and put as much time in as you do," continued the Bryan mentor. "It makes my job a lot easier having them."

While the Golden Bears have already gotten past defending NWOAL champion Archbold, "easy" is the antonym of what lies ahead on the Bryan schedule. With a jaunt to Patrick Henry (4-2, 4-1 NWOAL) on the docket for Friday, followed by a clash with undefeated league superpower Liberty Center (6-0, 5-0 NWOAL) up for next week, both coach and players alike are not about to rest on any laurels.

"There are two great teams ahead of us in PH and LC," noted Hug. "They are quality opponents and we respect them and respect what they've done this year so far. It will be a good test for us to see where we're at and a good measuring stick to see how far we've come."

Kline may be pleased with where the hard work and dedication of his players have them sitting at the moment. But make no mistake, he and his squad are not in denial over the importance of the next two weeks.

However, the Bryan head coach sums up the situation with a realism befitting a winning program.

"We understand that these next two weeks are pretty big in terms of points and all these other things," Kline stated. "And really, PH is a good way to kind of kick things off because to me they're always going to be one of the elite teams in the NWOAL. We're excited to be in the hunt for things and for this game to mean something."

It is an attitude which has not been wasted on his players … one that should continue to pay dividends down the stretch, win or lose.

"We've just got to stay focused in practice, keep working hard and doing what we have been doing because what we have been doing has been working," concluded Chaney. "We respect (Patrick Henry) … they're great opponents, and it will show us where we're at in our season."

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