Rebuilding Kennard-Dale football program hopes 2018 season is another stepping stone

  • Kennard-Dale went 7-53 between 2011 and 2016, including two winless seasons.
  • The Rams went 5-5 last season and 2-4 in Division II play.
  • The Rams won their Week Zero game 33-0 over Pequea Valley, allowing just 34 total yards.

Fawn Grove is the type of place that yearns for a good high school football team.

Defensive end JJ Kennedy practices his rip technique at practice. The Rams are 1-0 this season after defeating Pequea Valley 33-0 last Friday. Jacob Calvin Meyer photo.

Tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of York County, Fawn Grove — and Kennard-Dale High School — is a quiet place with lots of farmland.

Quiet, unless the Rams are playing at home on Friday night.

A tight-knit community such as the South Eastern School District often wants to hang the mood of its weekend on whether a group of teenage boys can win a game on Friday night.

From 2011-2016, though, there wasn’t much winning happening on Fridays. After going 5-6 and making the playoffs in 2010, the Rams went 7-53 in the next six seasons.

“Our kids lacked accountability and responsibility,” said head coach Chris Grube, who is in his third season as K-D’s head coach. “We had to make them know they had to be accountable for their grades and their actions inside and outside the classroom. We preached that.”

The rebuild: Grube’s first year at K-D was in 2016, when the Rams went 0-10. In his second season, though, Grube led the Rams to a 5-5 season — their best finish since 2010.

Kennard-Dale's linemen working on explosive drills at practice. The Rams defeated Pequea Valley 33-0 last week. Jacob Calvin Meyer photo.

“I definitely didn’t see (the rebuild) happening this quick,” Grube said. “After that 0-10 season, we had a lot of kids returning. I thought the 5-5 season would come a little later, but the kids have taken ownership and have bought into what we’re telling them as coaches.”

The improving team has led the community — the school board, the students, the Fawn Grove area residents — to increase its support for the program.

“Now you’re seeing my philosophy start to work out and my vision for the program,” Grube said. “It’s been awesome. Our fans have been absolutely incredible. Our students and the atmosphere (have) been incredible. It’s what it’s all about. It’s so exciting.”

In the last two years, the Rams have been provided with a new fieldhouse, entrance tunnel, jerseys and helmets by the school board or the boosters. A few years back, permanent lights were also added to the field.

“You can see they’re investing so much in us that the kids don’t want to let them down,” Grube said.

Fast start: In Week Zero, at least, the Rams didn’t let anybody down. K-D defeated visiting Pequea Valley 33-0 last Friday.

Kennard-Dale's linemen working on explosive drills at practice. The Rams defeated Pequea Valley 33-0 last week. Jacob Calvin Meyer photo.

“I feel like the expectations are a lot higher,” said fullback Wyatt McCleary, who ran for 84 yards and a touchdown. “When we were winless, people would’ve been happy if we won three games. Now, the expectation is to make the playoffs this year, because we know the talent we have on the team.”

The Rams were the only York-Adams League team to pitch a shutout last week. The K-D defense held Pequea Valley to 34 yards of total offense and negative 26 rushing yards.

“We were (practicing) the plays that we ran against them,” said defensive end Patrick Maloney, who had two of K-D’s six sacks in the game. “We basically had an idea of how everything was supposed to be done, and it all just came together.”

Kennard-Dale quarterback Noah Hulslander (12) dodges middle linebacker Wyatt McCleary in a Rams practice from last season. The Rams are 1-0 this season after defeating Pequea Valley 33-0 last Friday.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Experienced leaders: The Rams return 12 starters — six on each side of the ball — from last year’s team, and one of the most important on defense is middle linebacker Ryan Gibney. Grube trusts Gibney enough to let his senior captain call the defense for the Rams.

“We give tendencies and the options, but it’s his responsibility to call what side and where he wants the pressure from,” Grube said. “We have a lot of faith in Ryan that he’s going to get the job done.”

Leading the Rams’ Wing-T offense is three-year starting quarterback Noah Hulslander. K-D’s fullback in the run-heavy system is McCleary, who Grube said is the type of runner “to put his head down and run people over.”

“He’s a tough kid and a tough runner,” Grube said. “He’s not going to juke or dance. He’s just going to run you over. An arm tackle isn’t going to bring him down.”

Lifting program: One aspect to the Rams’ quick rebuild, Grube said, is the strength and conditioning program the Rams do in the offseason and during the season.

Grube is thankful for K-D’s strength and conditioning coach, Lindsay Kinard, and power lifting coach, Niko Hulslander, Noah’s father.

By the numbers: Week Zero stats to remember

“Our offseason training has been phenomenal,” Grube said. “I’m lucky that our kids love our strength and conditioning program and our power lifting program down here. We have been state champions in power lifting for a few years now, and they bought into that culture of lifting. … They work hard, and we’ve got some really tough kids.”

In 2015, Grube said the Rams didn’t practice on Saturdays.

“I thought it was crazy,” he said. “We were losing a day of preparation.”

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Now, the Rams lift on Saturday morning and have a team film session while eating breakfast.

“My kids hate me Saturday when I make them squat, believe me,” Grube said. “But they understand after we squat and have our team breakfast, they feel pretty good. We’re continuing to build that family culture.”

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at