Despite injuries, setbacks, and challenging schedules, coaches for all six diocesan high schools football teams are hopeful for improved records and births in the playoffs.
As the mid-season mark approaches, the combined record for the six schools—Ursuline High School (Youngstown), Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown), John F. Kennedy High School (Warren), Canton Central Catholic, Saint John School (Ashtabula) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Louisville)—stands at 11-13. Yet all the coaches—including two first-year head coaches—contend that their respective teams are improving each week.
Below is the mid-season gridiron report for John F. Kennedy High School. You can find detailed reports on the other schools here: Ursuline High School, Cardinal Mooney High School, Canton Central Catholic, Saint John School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
New coach at John F. Kennedy High School hopes to continue school’s winning tradition
The John F. Kennedy High School football team (JFK), with new head coach Damon Buente, leads a program that has been a perennial playoff contender since 2015 under previous Coaches Jeff Bayuk and Dominic Prologo.
Last year, the JFK Eagles won all but one game in the regular season, advancing to the Division VII playoffs. Their playoff run continued all the way to the state finals, where they lost to the New Bremen Cardinals.
Coach Buente noted that JFK lost some key players to graduation: Patrick Valent (offensive and defensive lineman who earned Akk-Ohio honors and playing football at Rice University); Thomas Valent (tight end and free safety, All-Ohio selection, has gone on to Baldwin-Wallace University); Ambrose Hoso (linebacker, All-Ohio selection); and Aidan Rossi (wide receiver and defensive back, All-Ohio selection—second team honors).
Caleb Hadley, who played quarterback for JFK for several seasons, did not come out for football this year. Junior Freddy Bolchalk, who saw some time at the quarterback slot, has the starting role this year.
Other returnees include junior linebacker Mike Bartoe, who was first team all-league in 2022, wide receiver junior Noah Elser, junior defensive tackle Deaune Earley and junior defensive back Marcus Komor.
Senior Riley Littler, also a member of JFK’s soccer team, is serving as placekicker, Buente pointed out. “I have a good relationship with the soccer coach, Anthony Ledenko,” who, as a JFK student athlete in 2014, played soccer and filled in at placekicker when the team’s placekicker was sidelined for a while with an injury.
“We’ve been learning the spread offense” with the assistance of two new assistant coaches—Luke Stucke and Mo Green, Buente said. “Both have extensive experience in the spread. Defensively, we are transitioning to first-time coordinator Chris Dirando, who ran a similar system as used before at Kennedy.”
Again, JFK will be competing in the Portage Trail Conference and in in Region 25 of OHSAA Division 7. “We have three seniors and a boatload of kids who are seeing varsity football action for the first time.”
In their first three games, the Eagles won against Warren Champion but lost to undefeated Division V power Garrettsville Garfield and defending division V state champion Canfield South Range. A contest against Sandusky Perkins was cancelled due to injuries.
The rest of the season poses further challenges, with JFK facing Alliance Marlington, Mogadore, Rootstown, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Cleveland Central Catholic and Ravenna Southeast at the closing of the regular season.
Buente points out Division VII JFK generally faces bigger schools in the regular season, but such a rigorous schedule helps prepare them for the playoffs.
“We expect them to grow through adversity while upholding the Kennedy standard in terms of effort,” Buente concluded. “We’re putting new systems into place and dealing with teenagers, many of whom are new to football. So it’s not easy, but we’re improving.”
Having joined the JFK coaching staff in 2022, Buente was named head coach earlier this year after the departure of Coach Prologo. A 2006 Canfield High graduate, Buente went to college at Miami of Ohio, graduating in 2012. He served as an assistant football coach at Canfield for two years. From 2014 to 2021, he coached for Western Reserve. He also earned a master’s in 2019 in educational administration through the American College of Education, and he teaches at Berlin Center, Western Reserve.