Massillon’s Kempt appreciates the journey

MASSILLON – Kyle Kempt had been playing football for as long as he could remember, and it wasn’t just a hobby.

He’d visited noted quarterback guru Bob Johnson in Southern California before he was even in middle school and impressed then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh enough at a coaching clinic that he was offered a scholarship before he started high school. He quarterbacked the freshman team at Aloha High School in Oregon, and the next logical step was the starting position with the varsity.

The summer before his sophomore year of high school, his family moved to Northeast Ohio. He visited high schools, talked it over with his family and decided he would attend Massillon Washington.

It took all of about one week in Massillon for Kempt to realize he was learning football — and what the game meant — all over again.

There’s no better place — anywhere — for FOX Sports Ohio’s Game of the Week coverage to kick off than Massillon, where tonight Kempt and a talented senior class host Akron Buchtel. A crowd of around 15,000 is possible at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

As usual, all eyes will be on Kempt. He took over as the Tigers starting quarterback in the middle of his sophomore season, and his senior year begins tonight.

“It’s been a journey,” Kyle Kempt said. “Each year has been different, and I’ve come a long way. Everything from winter workouts to the McKinley games to getting ready for what we think is going to be a good year, it’s all been an amazing experience.

“There’s nothing like football at Massillon. There are a hundred great schools all around, but football just means more at Massillon.”

Mychal Kempt’s job transfer in 2010 brought the family to Stark County. He’d visited Stark County several times for his job, and had visited Massillon when the indoor football practice facility was being completed. He remembered seeing an entire section in the newspaper devoted to coverage of the Massillon-McKinley game, but he still had no idea of just how much passion for football — and for the Tigers, specifically — the city of Massillon had.

“It was just Kyle and I out here; my wife and youngest son were still back in Oregon,” Mychal Kempt recalled about that first summer. “I dropped off Kyle for a 7-on-7 passing scrimmage another school, and I came back when it started. There were 2,500 people in the stands for a 7-on-7.

“I called my wife and told her we’ve never seen anything like this.”
 
Said Marlene Kempt: “On the West Coast, football isn’t like it is in Stark County. There’s a lot more pressure in Massillon because of the fan base and the expectations, but Kyle loves it. And his class is a bunch of neat kids. He’s made great friends, had great experiences.

“To move clear across the country in the middle of high school, I was a wreck. That’s not easy. But I don’t think Kyle could be any happier, and I’m the same way.”

Kyle Kempt said he was at first shocked that random strangers would recognize and approach him in public — offering both criticism and praise — in Massillon, but he quickly embraced it. Now, Kyle knows all about Massillon’s football history, the big games that come before the season-ending battle with McKinley and rattles off the numbers former Massillon and Ohio State quarterback Justin Zwick posted in his two years as Massillon’s quarterback. They’re school records, benchmarks and something to shoot for.

Kyle Kempt has never had a B in the classroom. Never. His cumulative grade-point average is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.2, and when school resumed this week his class schedule included three more advanced-placement courses.

The Tigers rely on his brain as much as they rely on his arm. New offensive coordinator Badre Bardawil has installed an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Kempt will sometimes call plays on the fly based on what he sees. He’ll check into and out of others. Massillon will focus on speed and volume to wear out defenses and dare them to show Kempt a place he can attack.

His job is simply to do what he’s been training to do since he was in fifth grade — and specifically over the last two years. He’s a quarterback. Here, he’s the quarterback.

“Until you live the whole thing, you can’t fully understand what football means to Massillon,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said. “That includes me as the head coach. But it matters here, and it matters to Kyle. The way he’s thrown himself into what we’re doing and trying to do this year is impressive. He’s as intelligent a football player as I’ve ever coached.  

“Two years ago, he was a tall, skinny kid who could play a little bit. Now, he’s a fierce competitor who leads every minute.”

The Kempt’s youngest son, Jake, is a sophomore playing football at Jackson High School. The oldest, Cody, played quarterback at Oregon and Montana State. He’s now a graduate assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati, and Kyle announced last spring that he’ll continue his education and playing career at Cincinnati next fall.

For now, Kyle is focused solely on Massillon. With his recruitment out of the way he spent almost the whole summer with his teammates, everything from camps to organized workouts to just hanging out at home talking about the season of their dreams.

It starts tonight.

“We have very high expectations, always,” Kyle Kempt said. “But they’re realistic. We have a chance to be good. I can’t wait.”

He speaks for all of Massillon. Another football season has finally arrived.