News

East Kentwood embraces underdog role

Football   | Jeff Chaney

State Champs! Sports Network

Kentwood – Faith and Stability.

After more than a decade of futility, that's all the East Kentwood football team needed to make another deep run in the Division 1 state playoffs.

First-year coach Tony Kimbrough has been the person that has given the program both faith and stability, and that's the reason the Falcons are 11-1 and will be taking on defending state champion Clarkston (12-0) in a semifinal on Saturday at Brighton at 1 p.m.

“When you have a bunch of different coaches, it is hard to build a program,” said Kimbrough, who starred at Western Michigan and the Canadian Football League in his playing days.

“I'm the fourth coach in four years, so these kids have had no stability. But this was a commitment by myself, and making them make a commitment to being a good football team. When I took, over, I said you have to do it my way, you have to put so much time in the weight room and in the summer programs. I was setting the bar high and not wavering from that. And it didn't hurt to have a good group of seniors.”

East Kentwood had some of this early last decade when legendary coach John Shillito, who now coaches at Zeeland West, was running the program.

In 2002, the Falcons finished with a 13-1 record, losing to Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 finals. The next year the team went 10-2 and lost in the regionals.

After that, the Falcons were over .500 just once, and that was ‘04.

But Kimbrough, and his 26 seniors, 18 of whom are starters, have helped the Falcons win the OK Red Division, and then beat a pair of division opponents in the playoffs, Grandville and Hudsonville.

“I said this before, the OK Red is one of the toughest conferences in the state,” Kimbrough said. “Not only is there great coaching, but tons of talent. To beat Grandville and Hudsonville twice, that has boosted our confidence. That made us stronger as a team.”

Leading the way for the Falcons in senior quarterback Kyle Friberg, who was has thrown for nearly 1,600 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 10 more touchdowns.

“We have a really strong senior class this year,” Friberg said. “Our team unity is really strong. There are no clicks in the locker room, and that hasn't always been that way. And we have dealt well with adversity. In years past after the loss to West Ottawa (28-21 week six loss), we might have fallen apart. But now we used it as a positive to get us where we are now. We are confident. We are just going to play football no matter who plays against us and let the chips fall where they fall.”

Friberg has weapons at his disposal in senior running back Michael Ivy and senior wider receiver Adam Racette.

Ivy has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns this year.

“We have a lot of good chemistry, Ivy said. “We all get a long and that makes us want to fight for each other.

“I'm not surprised at all with the year we are having. It all started in the summer. We had one goal, and that was go onto the road or Ford Field. It all started in the summer with training and working hard in practice, and now we are almost there. It feels real good. We can taste it that much more, and that makes you want to work that much harder to get there.”

But the defending champs stand in the way.

“They are tough,” Kimbrough said. “They do what they do, and do it well. You don't have anyone that you are afraid of. They are well coached and play hard. They run their offense and defense, and they don't beat themselves. You have to go in there and take it from them.

“Our kids are ready. They are hungry, and battle tested. They fear no one. They know this is a huge opportunity. You can throw out the records, this is the semifinals. You are one game away from the ultimate dream, and I don't think they know any better.”