Joe Kuhns had to clear a few hurdles in his return to coaching high school football.
Beth-Center, Kuhn’s alma mater, went 3-7 last season but did qualify for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, where it lost to Steel Valley, 51-14.
It’s not just the record Kuhns wants to improve. It’s pretty much everything about the team, including himself.
“We hope we don’t carry over anything from last year,” said Kuhns. “It was one of those years where I was trying to get reaclimated with the high school game. We had a lot of young kids playing. It was chaos for most of the season.”
The 2016 Bulldogs were in most games. A couple plays here and there in Beth-Center’s favor could have added a few more wins.
“We played some good football, at times,” Kuhns said. “In those close games, we didn’t have that foundation that you need to win close ballgames. It was tough.”
Perhaps Kuhns’ biggest adjustment came with calling plays, something he hadn’t done in quite some time as he spent the previous five seasons as a defensive coach at Waynesburg University.
“Some of it was me getting used to calling offensive plays again. When I was at Waynesburg, I coached the defense so it took some time for me to get back into that mode,” he said. “It also took a while for the kids to get used to me. It was just a crazy year.”
Now that Kuhns is settling back in at the high school level, he expects big things from his team.
Winning the close games will help.
Beth-Center only gave up 22 points per game on average last season, but the offense averaged only 13.9.
“Hopefully, what happens this year is that we have a good foundation we started to build last year,” Kuhns said. “We should be more comfortable with each other this season and hopefully that means we will be on the winning side of those close games.”
A big part of scoring more points will be getting a big year from junior Dominic Fundy.
Fundy rushed for 1,106 yards as a sophomore and has added weight in the offseason, which should make it even harder for defenders to bring down the bruising tailback.
The only question, which will be decided in camp, is whether Fundy will line up at tailback or take the snaps at quarterback.
Either way, the B-C offense should feature a lot of Fundy running the ball.
“I don’t want him taking any steps back, that’s for sure.” Kuhns said. “He’s committed. He’s coming in about 25 pounds heavier. We are expecting big things from him. He’s just a hard guy to tackle. He runs hard and is hard to wrap up. We haven’t decided where we are going to use him yet, but he’s going to run it wherever he lines up.”
It’s a bonus for Fundy and the B-C ground game that the Bulldogs return three quality starters on the offensive line, which could be the strength of the team.
Tim Trump, a three-year starter who is getting Division I interest, anchors the line. He is joined by juniors Evan Dreucci and Jacob Baker as returning starters.
“We have some really good kids up front,” said Kuhns. “We may not have the size that we had last season, but we have some good, hard-nosed football players. They love the weight room. I really like us up front. Because of them, we will be stronger running the ball than throwing it.”
On defense, look for the Bulldogs to be tough up front with Trump, Dreucci and Baker on the line.
The Bulldogs should also get a lift by the return of Trevor Anderson at middle linebacker. Anderson missed a lot of time last season because of an injury.
“I brought in the defense that I ran at Waynesburg, which is a little more complex than the kids were used to,” said Kuhns. “It took some time for them to get comfortable with it. But once they got comfortable, we started thinking less and playing more. We have a lot of kids coming back so I expect that to be a strength.”
A return to the playoffs for Beth-Center is possible, if they improve in areas such as red zone scoring, where the Bulldogs converted less than 50 percent of the time. That, along with improving on the basics, should get the Bulldogs back on track.
“The biggest thing to improve on from last year to this year is the stupid mistakes,” said Kuhns. “The little things cost you big. We wouldn’t just fumble the ball last year; we would fumble and it would get returned for a touchdown. Or it’s fourth-and-one and we jump offside. If we shoot ourselves in the foot less, then we should win more games.”
If that happens, Kuhns’ second season should go a whole lot smoother than his first. n