Ready or not, here comes Ashland
ASHLAND — When Beau Lehnerz first took over the football program at Ashland High School in 2017, it was about building up a very young team at the varsity level.
As Lehnerz enters his fifth year at the helm, that same theme is very much the case in 2021.
Without playing a varsity schedule in the spring due to a handful of concerns that included player safety, Lehnerz always knew that the Grizzlies were going to be young when the regularly scheduled fall season arrived. And with only six seniors on the roster, that is still very much the case.
But knowing that he and the Grizzlies have been in this situation before, he has a clear example of something to point to as the end product for this group of youngsters.
“We’ve had a young team before and we were 2-7, but those kids kept fighting and they ended up in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs in their senior year,” Lehnerz said, referencing the last time the Grizzlies played a varsity schedule. “It’s about patience, and that’s really been what we’ve been stressing as much as we can just because we’re so young.”
Impatience amid the desire for immediate results will be a thing that Lehnerz and his coaching staff expect to battle this season. Lehnerz fully admits that his team will take some lumps as the vast majority of his roster gets their first taste of varsity football.
But what Lehnerz knows is that his team will be gaining valuable experience, a lot like the young Grizzlies in 2017 and 2018, that could very well pay off a year or two down the road.
“Similar to the team that we had in 2019, a lot of those seniors, when they were sophomores, a lot of them were playing,” Lehnerz said. “That was my first year as head coach, and they took their lumps. But they got better and better and better, and by the time they were seniors they had an amazing year. There’s a lot of similarities there that these kids are going to have to be thrown into the fire and compete and take their lumps, but hopefully grow from it.”
The Grizzlies went 3-1 during their junior varsity schedule this past spring, including a win over North Valley’s varsity team.
Lehnerz said that was the perfect amount of games to find out what he had in his current crop of players but also to leave them wanting more in preparing for the fall.
“With the (spring) season, we wanted to give them something,” Lehnerz said. “And it ended up being the perfect amount of a carrot dangling in front of them, so after the season they were all hungry to get in the weight room, to learn.”
With such a small senior class, Ashland’s large junior class will also be looked upon to provide leadership on and off the field.
Lehnerz said this group is extremely tight-knit, pointing to the Grizzlies’ winter workouts that were forced to be out in the snow at Walter A. Phillips Field after COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from being in the weight room.
Now it’s just about getting the experience as varsity players that they currently lack.
“We’ve got a solid but small group of upperclassmen that has seen a lot of weird stuff, all of the craziness, and they’re doing a great job of bringing those kids along and not playing the upperclassmen card,” Lehnerz said. “They see they need these kids to have the best senior year they can have.”
Where the Grizzlies won’t be young is at the quarterback position.
Two of Ashland’s seniors, Ronin Kimbrough and Jackson Kemper, have been competing for snaps throughout preseason camp. Kemper, who’s also the starting catcher on the Grizzlies’ baseball team, played under center for the Grizzlies last season after Kimbrough broke his arm and was forced to play receiver.
“(Kimbrough’s injury) ended up being a pleasant surprise for us,” Lehnerz said. “Jackson’s a really good athlete and he was kind of thrown into it but he picked it up. We’re having a nice competition with Jackson and Ronin at quarterback.”
Lehnerz described the Grizzlies’ experience level on both the offensive and defensive line as “we have some veterans, but we’ve also got some really young pups.”
Where the Grizzlies will certainly be young is on the outside, with size and speed looking to overcome the lack of experience.
Ashland has height in targets like 6-foot-3 sophomores Caden Negra and Crosby Lehnerz — which reminds the Grizzlies’ head coach a lot of how his 2019 team was constructed.
Then there’s the speed in receiver/defensive back Elijah Broseamie, who Lehnerz said was one of the Grizzlies’ breakout performers in the spring.
Sophomore running back Gavin White will be the primary ball carrier for Ashland, as well as be part of the Grizzlies’ young defensive backfield.
“We’ve got some really good skill players that are young, so the future is bright,” Lehnerz said. “It’s very similar to the group in 2019 in that we’ve got big, tall wideouts on the outside and we’ve got some really shifty, athletic kids who can play slot. Skill-wise, they know they’re young, but we’ve got athletes at those positions so we don’t have any holes. We’ve got weapons.”
Now it’s just about getting all of those weapons — and just about everybody else on the Ashland roster — up to speed.
And with how competitive the Midwestern League can be, that much-needed experience will arrive in a hurry one way or another.
“We’re excited to see what everything looks like at full speed in a real game, especially when there’s some adversity,” Lehnerz said. “They’re all hungry, they all want to play, they all want to be good, so that’s exciting.”
Beau Lehnerz (fifth year, 15-14)
ASSISTANTS: Scott Chadick (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Eric Sullivan (special teams/ linebackers/running backs), Bubba Rylance (offensive line/outside linebackers), Austin Brower (offensive line/defensive line).
2020-21 OVERALL RECORD: 3-1 JV.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Seventh.
56 Willamette 27
49 Springfield 0
60 Ridgeview 6
33 Redmond 7
66 Churchill 27
13 Crater 48
35 North Eugene 7
49 South Eugene 35
50 Dallas 27
15 West Albany 41
2020-21 JV RESULTS
32 Eagle Point 29
20 Woodburn 0
20 North Valley (VAR) 13
0 Mazama 40
OFFENSE (11): Quarterback Ronin Kimbrough (6-0, 150, sr.), quarterback/receiver Jackson Kemper (5-10, 170, sr.), running back Gavin White (5-9, 165, so.), receiver Caden Negra (6-3, 170, so.), receiver Crosby Lehnerz (6-3, 150, so.), receiver Elijah Broseamie (5-6, 155, jr.), receiver Noah Shrader (5-8, 165, so.), receiver Tripp Repp (5-9, 170, sr.), lineman Nathan Shrader (5-9, 170, so.), lineman Colson Abel (6-3, 225, sr.), lineman Jack Bauer (6-0, 215, jr.).
DEFENSE (10): Lineman Colson Abel, lineman Nathan Shrader, lineman Jack Bauer, linebacker Patrick Latham, linebacker Elijah Broseamie, defensive back Ronin Kimbrough, defensive back Jackson Kemper, defensive back Gavin White, defensive back Caden Negra.
Quarterback Jack Maucort (6-2, 140, so.), tight end/linebacker Marcelo Saturen (6-2, 185, so.).
Sept. 3 HENLEY, 7 p.m., at Willamette HS
Sept. 10 NORTH BEND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 CHURCHILL, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 SPRINGFIELD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Willamette, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 EAGLE POINT, 7 p.m,
Oct. 22 at Thurston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Crater, 7 p.m.
Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.