Mariners are clicking under Kling New coach, spirit for 4-0 Joppatowne

September 26, 1993|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Staff Writer

Before the football season started, the No. 1 topic concerning Joppatowne High School's program centered on the team's new coach.

Before the change, at least three returning starters indicated they would not play for the Mariners this fall, and new players were listed at several skill positions. At least one listing of a possible order of finish for the Harford County League omitted the school altogether.

For its first four weeks, Joppatowne has answered the challenges with positive results -- four straight victories.

John Kling was named head coach in August, following Karlis Larson's acceptance of a coaching job in his native Ohio. Kling had had been a line coach at a suburban Buffalo, N.Y., high

school, and was in the midst of preparing for another season, when he decided to accept the challenge of a head-coaching job.

"That was the toughest adjustment -- to go from a position coach to a head coach," Kling said. "It definitely was a sudden transition."

He was unfamiliar with the area in general, the county and its caliber of football in particular, and did not know what to expect of the school, his staff, the players. Judging by the results, it has been a smooth transition.

The early weeks have been a step-by-step learning process, and an indication of just how well these lessons have been absorbed will unfold at Fallston on Friday night when the Mariners face another 4-0 team.

Bringing in a new offense and defense, Kling tried to keep it simple, and his players have responded with good execution.

"The way Coach presented his system, he started on a slow, even pace and didn't try to cram in a lot of things," said senior Cable Miller, a two-way standout as an offensive lineman and a linebacker.

Junior newcomers Matt Berger and Lewis McKisset, JV players a year ago who have stepped up to key roles, agreed.

Berger, the starting quarterback, said the new offense was easier to understand. McKisset, a running back, cited the previous one as being really complicated because of its variations and said he would not have been as comfortable with it.

Miller, 6 feet and 205 pounds, admitted he was unsure at the beginning of the season. "We'd had two scrimmages; the first was poor, and the second showed we progressed, but not a whole lot," he said.

"After our first touchdown in the opener [of what became a 37-7 victory at Rising Sun], you could see the confidence build."

McKisset said, "The next week, at Bel Air, we felt more as a team. We got together for those last two minutes when they had the ball."

It was his 39-yard touchdown run with a little more than two

minutes left that brought the Mariners from behind for the third and final time in their 32-27 win.

As the season progresses, those two minutes may loom as a milestone for this team, but the real proof came last week in the home opener.

Before school had started, there had been rumors of no team. Then an 0-10 season was mentioned as a possibility. Even when it was 2-0, this was a team many students had not seen play, and the players were getting questions about how they thought they'd do.

"We definitely made an impression," McKisset said of Joppatowne's 27-0 victory over John Carroll in a game played in the pouring rain. "From that, I think we'll get a lot of support."

Perhaps Berger has had the toughest road.

He expected to be the backup, to learn from the returning starter. When the latter chose not to play, the load fell on the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Berger.

"A lot of people did not accept me [in the beginning], but I believe I've worked hard and I like to think I'm doing an adequate job," he said.

Kling said, "He's a good, really smart quarterback, and he might have been my starter anyway. Running an option offense is totally new to him, but he's as good at it right now as we had in New York."

The bonus for Kling is that he and his staff had a good nucleus of seniors and a large group of underclassmen.

bTC In addition to Berger and McKisset, Avion Epps has developed into a quick defensive lineman; speedster Andre Turner has excelled on defense (three interceptions) and special teams (three kick returns for touchdowns); and sophomore running back Wendell Davis scored five touchdowns in the first three games and added an 82-yard kickoff return Friday night for another.

Pointing to Turner's three scores as an example, Kling explained that the staff has worked hard to make the special teams something in which the players could take pride. "We want them to be the best," he said.

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