Greg Dennison was approached by Dom Kriz in the offseason, a sort of how-do-you-do to the new Buckeye football coach with a winning pedigree. Dennison’s witnessed just about everything in 24 years as a head coach at Norton, Wadsworth and Buckeye, but Kriz’s introduction was unique.
This was, after all, his first-team All-Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division two-way lineman.
“It’s funny,” Dennison recalled Wednesday. “When I met him after I first got the job, the first thing he told me was he was a really good punter. (I said,) ‘I heard you were a pretty good lineman, so …’
Dennison then smiled with a bit of surprise in his voice.
“But you know what? He works hard at and he’s good at it. He’s hit a couple big punts that have changed field position. When you have a good punter — a lot of times he’s not a lineman — it can change the game for you.”
A 6-foot, 242-pounder with a rocket leg and proud? Yeah, Kriz is the real deal. Teammates bust his chops every now and then, calling him “The Chubby Punter” or “The Fat Guy That Kicks,” but no one laughs at Kriz’s 39.3 career average that is on pace to obliterate the 44-year-old school record set by Tom Kruse (36.6).
An injury to three-year starter Brenden McBride provided the opportunity last season, and Kriz never gave back the job. The high-scoring Bucks don’t punt often, yet big boots from No. 58 contributed to close wins over Black River last season and Revere in Week 1 this fall. He also had three attempts for a 43.7 average vs. Lutheran West and a 41-yarder at Columbia, after which he made a touchdown-saving tackle.
“Oh, it feels so good,” said a noticeably excited Kriz, who’s flexible enough to get his toes to eye level on his follow through. “I’m not going to lie, I shank a lot of them, but it goes really far probably half the time.”
While Kriz embraces the thankless job, he’s a left guard first. Arguably the best at his position in the PAC, Kriz built his reputation as the quick guard next to All-Ohioan Hunter Gray in former coach Mark Pinzone’s counter-heavy offense. The main job was to pull on the majority of running plays.
Dennison is a more traditional, though Kriz still gets to execute his specialty on quick-hitting traps and counters. The new downhill philosophy suited him just fine, and he worked hard on footwork.
“The backs — Adam (Fauver), Justin (Canedy) — they get all the fame, and as offensive linemen you have to have that mindset,” Kriz said. “It’s nice to go out there, work hard and let them take all the credit.”
Now Kriz is the leader of an experienced O-line featuring quick Spencer Murphy (C), physical Turner Mitchell (RG), strong-as-an-ox Luke Conrad (RT) and steady newcomer Ryan Smith (LT). Teammates voted Kriz a team captain along with wide receiver/cornerback Jonathon Neel, Fauver and Mitchell.
“All four of our captains have done a great job, especially embracing the new things we’ve brought in and making sure everyone has been doing what they need to do,” Dennison said. “(Kriz) has been a big part of that. When he talks, people listen.”
As for defense, Kriz doesn’t put up awe-inspiring tackle totals. That’s not his job, really, because the Bucks’ new 3-4 defense is about the linemen battling double teams to give the linebackers free reign.
What Kriz has a knack for is a momentum-swinging play, whether he’s at end or switching with Cody Svagerko at nose tackle. Fumble recoveries against Revere and Columbia illustrate that, as do 1ﾽ sacks in a surprisingly close game against Cloverleaf.
Kriz has 29 tackles, including 4ﾽ for loss and 2ﾽ sacks, for the season. All are highs for the line.
“I just try to keep going until the whistle is blown, you know?” he said. “Sometimes I’ll get double-teamed, triple-teamed, but I’ll just keep trying to work off and hopefully I get something done.”
With athletes all over and experience up front, the Bucks are off to a 6-0 start and ranked eighth in The Associated Press Division III state poll. They’ll get their biggest test thus far Friday at rival Black River, which also is perfect and mans the No. 7 poll position in D-V.
The Pirates specialize in smashmouth football, and Kriz is looking forward to the challenge. Buckeye lives for games like these, and winning 33 of the last 34 in the regular season proves it thrives in them, too.
“It’s a big opportunity. Obviously, Black River is a good team and a rival,” Kriz said. “This is going to be a good matchup to see what we’re actually made of.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.