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The Suburbanite
  • Kehres’ impact evident in Jackson football program

  • Last week’s announcement that long-time Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres was retiring after 27 seasons, 332 wins, 23 Ohio Athletic Conference championships and 11 Division III national titles had an impact well beyond Alliance.

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  • Last week’s announcement that long-time Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres was retiring after 27 seasons, 332 wins, 23 Ohio Athletic Conference championships and 11 Division III national titles had an impact well beyond Alliance.
    Kehres’ hundreds of former players, many of them now coaches as well, experienced a day they knew was coming eventually, but weren’t necessarily expecting just yet.
    Jackson head coach Beau Balderson was one of those former players, having lined up at running back for the Purple Raiders from 1996-2000. As a member of three national championship teams and a group that won 54 consecutive games, Balderson knows firsthand what Kehres built at Mount Union.
    “We went 54-1 and won three national championships,” Balderson said. “Especially in playoff format where you have to beat five of the best teams to win (the title), he has built something that has never been matched and I don’t think it ever will be. It’s not even fathomable, to win 54 games in a row and then 55 in a row.”
    The 54- and 55-game win streaks came during a streak from 1995-2004 when Mount Union posted 10 consecutive unbeaten regular seasons and won six national championships, including three straight in Balderson’s first three years in the program.
    Asked what made Kehres such an effective coach and leader, Balderson pointed to the consistency in how the veteran coach treated all of his players.
    “The way he treated people was very consistent. He would yell at you whether you were fifth string or an All-American,” Balderson said. “He would do the same thing in a positive fashion, too. It’s something I still use, 100 percent, treating kids equally across the board no matter what their talent level.”
    SETTING THE TONE
    Balderson recalled his recruitment, when he visited Mount Union and Kehres told him the goal was to win national championships. When he visited other schools such as Baldwin Wallace and John Carroll, the goal was “to beat Mount Union.”
    Once he arrived on campus, he learned quickly that Kehres was a coach who was all business and intensely focused in both practice and games.
    “At the drop of a dime, he could turn on a different attitude with the kids and he could separate the positive and negative,” Balderson said. “He set the mood for the entire day at practice and you knew when he meant business.”
    During Balderson’s time on campus, the makeup of the roster shifted from a more experience group to a younger one and Kehres altered his approach to suit the team he had at a given time, according to Balderson. He also pointed to Kehres’ ability to delegate and allow his position coaches to be hands-on with players and develop relationships both on and off the field.
    Page 2 of 2 - There were moments when Kehres did show a crack in the all-business facade, including one Halloween when a player attended a party dressed as him. According to Balderson, Kehres learned of the costume and decided to return the favor. He went to the locker room, donned the player’s jersey and walked into practice in full uniform.
    IMPACTING THE GAME
    Former Mount Union players populate the high school coaching ranks in Northeast Ohio and beyond, with Massillon coach Jason Hall, Avon coach Mike Elder, St. Clairsville coach Brett McClain and Balderson just a few of the long list of branches on Kehres’ coaching tree.
    That tree was planted at Mount Union for nearly three decades and remained there despite interest from Division I schools such as Akron, Kent and Princeton. Balderson insists he never imagined Kehres leaving.
    “You heard all of the rumors about Kent, Akron and Princeton, Balderson said. “At the time, I remember thinking, ‘He’s got everything I could ever see him wanting; He lives around the corner and his wife teaches at Southeast Elementary.’ I didn’t see him ever leaving.”
    Kehres hasn’t left Mount Union entirely; he is still the school’s athletic director and is now his son Vince’s boss as the younger Kehres takes over the program his father built into a national power. Even though he is no longer coaching, Balderson and his former players still have plenty of stories they enjoy recalling when they meet at coaching clinics in the offseason. Those stories might even be as numerous as Kehres’ coaching victories … maybe.
    Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or andy.harris@TheSuburbanite.com.
    On Twitter: @aharrisBURB