SULLIVAN TWP. — Way back in 1990, Black River took a risk when it selected the replacement for football coach Matt Stoll, who left for Wellington after a 10-0 season. The Pirates turned to young, energetic assistant Al Young, banking on the belief that hiring a born-and-raised graduate would pay off.
The results were epic. Young finished a 29-year career on Oct. 26 with 198 victories, 10 league titles and 10 playoff appearances, including three berths in the regional finals.
Athletic director Ted Gordon is confident lightning will strike twice, as legendary Black River player Kyle Clark is the pick to replace Young pending board approval Feb. 21.
The 33-year-old Spencer resident was the defensive coordinator the past four seasons.
“It’s pretty big shoes to fill,” Clark said. “It’s going to take me awhile to do what (Young) did right, let alone on top of what I want to do. If I can do everything that he did right, I’ll be all right.
“(I want to) motivate kids the way he did, keep the intensity and keep the fire going. He was able to do that, and that’s something I’m going to struggle with early on.”
A 15-member selection committee comprised of Gordon, superintendent Chris Clark, community members and ex-varsity football coaches Stoll and Rob Clarico (Keystone) selected Clark over longtime offensive coordinator Matt Stafford, another All-Ohio ex-Black River player.
Clark inherited a mess in 2015. The Pirates allowed 39.9 points per game the prior season and were particularly weak against the run.
Using a blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme he learned while playing at Ashland University, Clark immediately brought Black River back to respectability. The Pirates allowed averages of 24.3, 21.6, 13.1 and 21.7 points over the past four seasons, as well as 83.0 tackles for loss (23.7 sacks) and 17.7 turnovers over the last three.
Clark will continue to call the defensive plays. Clark and Stafford did the game-planning and ran most of the practices in recent seasons while Young transitioned to a CEO role.
“It feels good to know I can try out the things I’ve been running through my mind for so many years now,” Clark said, referring to possible changes on offense and to the offseason weightlifting program. “I was nervous because I was interviewing against (Stafford), and he’s a heckuva candidate and been there a long time.”
Considered one of the best players in Black River’s rich history, Clark was a four-year starter and two-time All-Ohioan who played quarterback, wingback, defensive end and kicker while leading the Pirates to the 2003 Division IV regional finals. He was a defensive lineman at Ashland and earned honorable mention All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference accolades as a senior.
Clark began teaching science in 2012 at neighboring Mapleton, where he was the defensive coordinator for two seasons. Once the Sullivan Township native accepted a science teaching position at the Medina County Career Center, Clark knew he was heading home.
While many in the community were skeptical Young would retire this soon — the decision coincided with his son, Mitchell, graduating — Clark knew getting his foot in the door would provide the best opportunity.
Now he has the only head coaching job he has wanted.
“From Day 1 that I said, ‘Hey, I want to be a coach,’ I wanted to coach at Black River in some capacity,” he said. “I had an opportunity at Mapleton to move up in the ranks and said, ‘Oh, maybe I should because ultimately I want to get back to Black River,’ but I didn’t want to coach there a few years and leave.
“It’s really hard to read Al and what he’s going to do, but if I was ever going to put my money on anything, it was when Mitchell would graduate.”