Eastwood’s linebacker corps building confidence

J. Patrick Eaken

Eastwood football coach Craig Rutherford says a big reason for Eastwood’s seven-game winning streak is the linebackers, who seem to be building confidence with every game.

They are not the biggest linebackers, but that have what it takes. Outside linebackers are 5-10, 161-pound senior Isaac Badenhop and 5-11, 171-pound junior Dylan Hoffman. Inside linebackers are 5-8, 174-pound sophomore Bryce Hesselbart and 5-6, 171-pound senior Zach Kwiatkowski.

Kwiatkowski leads the team with 81 tackles (56 solo, 25 assists), nine tackles for a loss, two sacks, and two recovered fumbles. Of the four, he was the one who came into the season experienced.

“They are our most inexperienced group, other than Zach, who was a second team all-state player for us a year ago and a three-year starter,” Rutherford said. “So, he has been the rock of our defense for a long time.”

This year, Rutherford brought in linebacker coach Evan Karchner, a 2012 Maumee High School graduate who played for coach John Boles when the Panthers last had a successful gridiron run in the Northern Lakes League. Karchner went on to play NCAA Division I football at Bowling Green State University. 

“(Karchner) has had to find ways to get those guys reps in practice. Isaac Badenhop, he moved down from corner (back) and he was an all-league corner a year ago,” Rutherford said. “Because we needed depth at linebacker, he moved down. He has grown up a little bit, spent a lot of time in the weight room and he’s one of our leading tacklers. He is a basketball and baseball player, so he’s fairly aware. 

“Dylan Hoffman has been one of our guys all year, but he made some unbelievable tackles for a loss that really got North Union out of what they wanted to do. He went flying in there and really disrupted things. It seems like it actually surprised him a little bit that he made those plays, but we could see him growing as a player just throughout the game and he’s become a nice player for us.”

That is what Karchner likes to see — his linebackers making big plays, like two huge tackles for a loss from Hoffman, including the one in overtime, in the 20-14 Division V regional semifinal overtime win over Richwood North Union.

“That was really big for him because this year was his first year starting and getting varsity action,” Karchner said. “Any big plays those young kids can make is great for their confidence and it’s awesome watching them when they do make big plays and are getting confidence, how much they grow from week to week. 

“It’s a special thing to see and it’s one of the things I love about coaching, and one of the things I love about coaching kids from Eastwood because they work so hard you want to see them do things. When they do stuff like that in big situations, like in that game versus North Union, it will be talked about forever. That does wonders for those kids.”


Taking on leadership roles

Karchner says Kwiatkowski and Badenhop have almost been like second coaches in helping him teach the two less-experienced linebackers. 

“I got a lot of help with Bryce from Zach. They spend a lot of time together and Bryce does a lot of learning from Zach. One of the things that I pride myself on is I do really well with teaching the basics, the simple things of linebackers that a lot of people don’t think about to help them become better defensive players, not just linebackers,” Karchner said. 

“So, with Dylan and Bryce I had the opportunity to work with them at the beginning of the year because they don’t play in the offense, so I got a lot of time with them. So, that’s basically my philosophy — ‘Hey, we are going to do the little things better than everybody else.’ They are things you might not think about, and maybe things that are not the flashiest to work on. Those two did a great job of buying into that and buying into me. 

“You know, I was a new coach at Eastwood, and they had no clue who I was, and part of the battle is winning over the kids and having them trust you. I’m really grateful that Craig runs a great program and has great kids and players, and they really welcomed me, and those young kids made my job a thousand times easier and made it fun to coach them,” Karchner continued.

“Really, all their success should go to them because they work their butts off every single day when they step on that field. They really make me proud to say I am part of that.”

Hesselbart is second on the team with 51 tackles (40 solo, 11 assists), including six for a loss. Badenhop follows with 39 tackles (33 solo, six assists), three for a loss, two sacks and one caused fumble. Hoffman has 21 tackles (19 solo, two assists), including four for a loss and one sack.

Karchner did coach the Eastwood linebackers in 2015, his first year out of college, and then returned this year.

“I knew Eastwood was a special place and I coached linebackers then. I know my reason why I worked back to Eastwood was because it is a special place with special coaches. There are really good kids to work with so it’s a blast working with those kids. They are all tough-nosed kids, work really hard and they make my job really easy,” Karchner said.

This year, it has been about more than just what happens on the football field.

“Zach and Isaac both played a lot of varsity games for Eastwood, they have won a lot of games, and they have a lot of experience. They’ve done a great job this year leading our team and being leaders of our defense, especially with everything going on with how COVID is and all the game cancellations, and all of the hoops we have to jump through and all the guidelines we have to follow, they’ve done a great job sort of keeping everybody focused, everybody in line on our goals,” Karchner said.

“Even though we might have some games canceled and guys might get COVID all this stuff, they really helped our team and especially our defense stay focused on what we wanted to do.”

Leading Eastwood’s defensive line is Blake Landis, a 6-2, 197-pound senior, who has 38 tackles (33 solo, five assists), including 18 for a loss, 10 sacks, one caused fumble and one recovered fumble. Junior Cole Kiefer, a 5-11, 237-pound junior DL, has 26 tackles (18 solo, eight assists), six for a loss, two sacks, caused one fumble and recovered one fumble. 

Leading the defensive backfield is 6-0, 165-pound junior Lake Boos, who has 22 tackles (21 solo, one assist) and 5-8, 138-pound sophomore Case Boos has 22 tackles (19 solo, three assists) and one tackle for  a loss. Isaac Cherry, a 5-10, 146-pound junior, has 20 tackles (17 solo, three assists).




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