Giving back to a program that once meant so much to one as a high-schooler is always heartwarming.
As a former player under former Portsmouth head coach Curt Clifford, and as a 2002 graduate of Portsmouth High School, Bruce Kalb will tell anyone who asks that the Trojans’ high school football program is a big reason why he is here today.
“Ultimately, the program transformed my life when I played,” Kalb said. “The Portsmouth High School football program transformed my life, and, in some ways, saved my life. When you leave with an impression like that, you want to come back and help make the same difference for the student-athletes in the program. To be able to come back and coach with guys that coached me was neat.”
Now, Kalb, after serving under former Portsmouth head coach Aaron Duncan for the last three seasons as an offensive coordinator, will get the chance to run a program in his own way and further establish the culture that Clifford, Duncan, and others passed down to him as the former offensive lineman was named as the newest head coach of the program on Thursday evening.
For Kalb, who will be entering his eighth season coaching football on the varsity level, the player-turned-coach plans to build his foundation much like Duncan did — on the idea of family.
“We’re a family,” Kalb said. “We’re going to face adversity together, push through things, and come out on the other side better than what we were when we started.”
Kalb, who was a starting offensive lineman for Portsmouth, played on two of the best Trojan units to ever be assembled at the school in 2000 and 2001, which went to the Division III State Semifinals and the Division IV Regional Finals, respectively, en route to helping the Trojans obtain a 24-3 record as a starter in his final two seasons of play.
That success on the football field not only translated to the classroom, where Kalb obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in French from The Ohio State University, but in his professional career. After getting a call from Curt Clifford, Kalb helped out with Portsmouth’s junior high football program on the offensive line, then made the move to Waverly as an offensive line coach under Rusty Wright.
When Chris Crabtree was brought in as the head coach in 2013, Kalb — who taught French I through IV at Waverly High School — was promoted to the offensive coordinator role, where he served for two seasons before being hired at the same post by Duncan at Portsmouth.
During each of the last three seasons, Kalb — who has helped oversee the development of players such as Talyn Parker, Logan Carter, DJ Pearsall, Colin Boehm, and Anthony Ferrera while at Portsmouth — says that Duncan, who coached Kalb in high school as an assistant on the Portsmouth staff, has only aided his growth and development as a leader of young boys and men.
“I believe that I’ve grown a lot as a coach under Aaron Duncan, and when he decided to step back in order to spend more time with his family, one of the main reasons that I wanted to take over the head coaching position is to finish what he started. Aaron was beginning to bring back some of the same values that the program had when I played.”
Some of those younger players that stepped into larger roles for Portsmouth — who finished with a 5-5 overall mark and a 4-3 record in Ohio Valley Conference action in 2017 — were mentioned by Kalb as integral pieces that will be vital to the development of the Trojans in 2018 and beyond.
Bryson Morrow (5-11, 190) is a junior who made great strides on the offensive front and in the linebacking core, while sophomore Austin McKenzie (5-8, 215) did likewise on the offensive and defensive lines. Sophomore defensive back Ty Pendleton (5-11, 165), who deflected a possible game-winning touchdown pass as time expired to thwart an Ironton rally en route to leading Portsmouth to a 42-35 victory in the Trojans’ final regular season contest, is a guy that will likely be relied on heavily in addition to Boehm and Parker, who were All-OVC talents in 2017.
“Bryson Morrow stepped up as a junior last year and did a great job on both sides of the ball,” Kalb said. “Austin McKenzie stepped in and gave us some valuable playing time that proved to be big for us. Those are among quite a few guys that will step up and fill those holes because they got experience last year. Overall, we’ve got a pretty good junior class that played a lot as sophomores. Hopefully, they’ll be able to step in, fill some of those shoes, and perform for us.”
In addition to Kalb, Gerald Cadougan, who has served as an assistant football coach in addition to his duties as a a swimming and track hand, will also continue to serve on the staff. Cadougan, who played as a teammate of Kalb’s during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, is expected to continue in his current role as a coach in the trenches.
“It’s a really neat experience to be on the other side with Gerald,” Kalb said. “We are both younger coaches in our school district who are looking forward to coaching at Portsmouth for many, many more years to come.”
However, Kalb knows that he, Cadougan, nor the rest of the staff can rest on the laurels that were developed from past successes — because in order to get Portsmouth back to its place among the elite football programs in Southern Ohio, the staff will have to continue to emphasis the qualities of discipline and hard work on and off of the gridiron.
“Aaron really emphasized developing good leaders and developing good young men that are going to succeed in life outside of football,” Kalb said. “At the end of the day, you have to be realistic. It’d be awesome if we had a bunch of young kids going to play college football every year, but whether or not that happens, those kids are going to either go to college and study for their future career or start performing a trade straight out of high school. I hope to instill the skills that are necessary for these kids to succeed in life after they leave our program, because those were skills that were taught to me. This program allowed me to gain the skills necessary to get to where I wanted to go, and I’m still practicing what I learned today.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT