June 27, 2016

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All Gazette: Hornets’ Bruce Kinsey nearly led football team to D-II playoffs

Intangibles are impossible to measure. They come in all forms, can be invisible to the untrained eye and are downright annoying to the opposition.

Highland quarterback Bruce Kinsey isn’t blessed with Peyton Manning size — and rocket arm, for that matter — or Cam Newton’s legs. What Kinsey has, however, is everything coach Tom Lombardo was looking for between the ears.

Highland quarterback Bruce Kinsey is the 2012 Gazette football MVP. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE)

Kinsey will never be a rah-rah guy. That’s not his style. Instead, his down-to-earth personality is infectious.

Offensive linemen love him because he loves them back — a T-shirt that said, “I love my O-line” proves it. Wide receivers love him for his soft, pinpoint passes that get there in a hurry because of an unorthodox yet quick release similar to Philip Rivers. Running backs love him because the threat of Kinsey taking off gave everyone else room to operate.

Winning helped, too.

No one in Medina County did that better than Kinsey, as the Hornets had four straight victories to close the regular season and came within a whisker of advancing to the Division II, Region 6 playoffs.

As such, the record-breaking 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior is Gazette MVP in the sport, joining Mike Kudla (2001), Chris Snook (2008) and Aaron Maslowski (2009) as Highland players to earn the award since 1977.

“He has all the intangibles,” Lombardo said. “He reads defenses, he’s a great ballhander, he throws an accurate ball and he makes the right decision. When you put those together, you have a solid high school quarterback.”

Coming into the season, Kinsey faced what appeared to be a monumental challenge. First, he had to replace dual-threat extraordinaire Jerry Scholle, who compiled 5,271 yards and 55 touchdowns in just 24 starts. If that wasn’t enough, sophomore Tanner Houska was getting equal reps throughout the preseason.

Kinsey wasn’t going to let his opportunity slip by, and won the job based on his aforementioned brains. In the grand scheme, Kinsey at quarterback caused the speedy Houska to move to wide receiver and give the offense more weapons.

“It helped me a ton to get better knowing that Tanner was always there,” said Kinsey, who has a 4.3 grade-point average, is a catcher for the baseball team and gave up basketball after breaking his collarbone in 2010. “Tanner helped me a ton, too. I’m a perfectionist as it is, and (the competition) pushed me to do even better.

“It was a feeling of relief (to be named the starter), but I still knew I had a lot of work to do. The season was a week or two away. I was kind of nervous, too, and excited at the same time.”

With the starting job in hand, Kinsey was mature enough to realize he wasn’t a gazelle runner of Scholle’s caliber. Kinsey tried nothing more than to be Bruce Kinsey. That meant being a surprisingly rugged ball carrier with deceptive speed and a heady quarterback with the mental capacity of an extra offensive coordinator.

Kinsey is the definition of a game manager. Time and again, he’d run or pass for a 5-yard gain on third-and-4. Time and again, he’d keep the ball on the Hornets’ signature belly option for a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-2. Time and again, he’d find a way to score when the odds were against him.

It was maddening for opposing coaches, who often asked, “How is this non-descript-looking dude killing us?”

Kinsey credited running backs Kent Masters and Adam Kluk, receivers Cory Moncol and Houska and his huge offensive line, but Lombardo knew where everything started.

“You knew what you called, but then you look at the numbers and it’s like, ‘Wow, he did some good things in some pressure situations,”’ Lombardo said. “Whatever he had to do, he did it. He’s selfless. All he cares about is the team getting the win at the end of the game.”

For all the abilities that helped Highland move the chains — the Hornets set school records for scoring average (36.5), yards (390.9) and first downs (21.7) — the most important thing was Highland won most of the big games thanks to its quarterback.

Eight times Kinsey compiled 200-plus total yards as he broke school season records for passing yards (1,689) and TDs (17). The Hornets were 6-2 in those games, but the losses were 56-51 to North Royalton — Kinsey had a school-record 318 passing yards, 395 yards total offense and five combined touchdowns — and 23-22 to Copley when he was stopped short on a two-point conversion in the waning moments.

When Highland’s season appeared to be on the ropes following a 35-21 loss to Tallmadge, Kinsey really took off. He had 205 passing yards and four TDs in less than three quarters against Revere, and saved his best for a road game against Green.

With his team facing a must-win situation, Kinsey was never better. He ran or threw an incredible 25 times apiece and finished with 259 total yards, four passing TDs and another score on the ground.

Highland even found ways to win when Kinsey struggled. He committed three turnovers against Nordonia, yet miraculously marched the Hornets down the field without a timeout and less than a minute on the clock to set up Joe Simonis’ game-winning field goal. Kinsey coughed up the rock three more times at Cloverleaf, but ran for a handful of critical clock-burning first downs in the fourth quarter as Highland held on for a 21-20 victory.

That’s what truly made Kinsey great. He found a way to inspire his teammates even when they watched him fail.

That’s also the measuring stick of a true leader — even if one can’t be measured at all.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4061 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.