June 27, 2016

Partly cloudy

Football: Few can match versatility of Colts’ Devin Cunningham

Devin Cunningham in the field is old school.

Devin Cunningham on the field is anything but. The lifestyle of Cloverleaf’s electric running back/safety/return man/punter is a dying breed in Medina County. The farms that once dominated the local economy are being sucked up by the combination of sluggish crop prices and high property values.

The Cunningham family refuses to give up its 15 acres dedicated to horses, and Devin owes much of his well-built 6-foot, 205-pound frame and incredible work ethic to timeless, grueling chores.

Devin Cunningham

“Baling hay is rough,” he said Thursday. “A lot of people can’t even do it. It’s a good upper-body workout, a good lower-body workout. It’s definitely lifting when you’re not lifting.”

Cunningham does everything with unbridled passion. The harder he works, the quicker a job is completed. The quicker the job is completed, the more time is available for leisure.

Normally, that involves hanging out with friends or his girlfriend. On Friday nights, though, there’s no place he’d rather be than feeling the rush of playing football under the lights.

“Oh, man, ever since seventh grade, Cloverleaf football has been my life,” he said. “I love taking pride in everything. To be known as a Cloverleaf athlete, it’s something to be proud about with (Kyle) Juszczyk in the pros now.

“With all the great athletes to come form Cloverleaf, to say I’ve been a running back for Cloverleaf, to say I’ve been a free safety for Cloverleaf, to say I’ve been through the experience with Coach (Bob) Lake and everyone, it’s just great. I love it.”

While Cunningham’s work ethic and enthusiasm are endearing qualities, his athletic abilities are hard to match.

The honors speak for themselves, as Cunningham was an Associated Press Division II third-team All-Ohio selection at safety last season. He also was first-team All-Suburban League and All-Gazette while setting a school record with 132 points.

The catch? Football may not be his best sport despite Mid-American Conference schools knocking on his door.

Cunningham is a two-time All-Gazette third baseman/outfielder in baseball, where he’s a big bright spot for a program without a winning season in 26 years. Despite little lineup protection, Cunningham has posted a whopping .442 batting average with 29 stolen bases over the past two years and has drawn interest from Kent State and Miami of Ohio.

“It’s going to be a hard choice because, obviously, I love both sports,” he said.

For now, Cunningham is keeping his options open. The most important thing is snapping the football team’s eight-game losing streak.

If Cunningham’s record-breaking last three seasons have been any indicator, it won’t take long.

Playing wide receiver as a sophomore and switching back to his natural position, running back, as a junior, Cunningham has already broken eight school records and is on the verge of six others.

His most notable exploit was surpassing Scott Chrislip’s 40-year-old career scoring record. The record-setting score came on the same night he set single-game marks for receptions (11), receiving yards (247) and receiving touchdowns (4).

The owner of a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time and 405-pound squat also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against Copley, including a 98-yarder, to join Highland’s Tim Sir Louis (1994 vs. Norton) as the only county players to accomplish the feat.

Cunningham enters tonight with 1,502 career rushing yards, 872 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He’s 120 points from joining an incredibly elite group of county players to reach 300.

Oh, and was it mentioned Cunningham averages nearly 40 yards per punt and has seven career interceptions from his safety spot?
“He does everything for us,” Lake said. “He’s a real big part of this football team.”

Cunningham wasn’t expecting to be Mr. Everything until this season. An early collarbone injury to star wide receiver Robby Buckwald in 2012 changed that.

Buckwald was coming off a junior year in which he was named first-team All-Ohio and later earned a scholarship to Toledo. Cunningham was third in the county in receiving as a sophomore, but was clearly second fiddle to Buckwald even after moving to running back.

The result of Buckwald’s injury — not to mention quarterback J.D. Schleich missing a good chunk of time as well —meant the offense fell on the shoulders of No. 26.

Cunningham took the pressure off rookie quarterback Garrison Flora and responded with 1,227 rushing yards, 525 receiving yards and 22 TDs as Cloverleaf posted its best scoring average (27.3) in 41 years.

The painful part was the wins didn’t follow because the defense was toothless without Schleich and Buckwald. The experience hardened Cunningham for good.

The only solution is to keep on truckin’.

“We come out every practice and we work tougher than every other team, I feel,” Cunningham said. “We’re always out here trying to encourage the guys to get better each practice, and as hard as we work and as hard as we come out on Fridays, the losses hurt even more than they would if you just lost by a ton of points. We’re going out there and we’re with them the whole time.”

The reason the Colts are still hanging around? Devin Cunningham.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 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.