Ryan Kurtz remembers what it was like for him and his fellow seniors on the Keansburg High School football team two years ago.
“It was horrible,” Kurtz said. “We were all young. It was like men playing against boys.”
According to Keansburg head coach Brian Kmak, eight sophomores started on offense and nine on defense, including Kurtz, during the 2010 season. The Titans went 0-10 and were outscored 422-48.
Last year, Keansburg was much more competitive, but the results did not show great improvement. The Titans wound up 1-9, with their one win coming against a Cardinal McCarrick team that won just one game. However, the Titans did lose four games by 10 points or less.
“Last year, when we were winning (in games), we just didn’t finish them,” Kurtz said. “Our big thing this year is finish. That’s what we’re doing so far (this season) is finishing.”
Kurtz, a senior quarterback/defensive back is a big reason Keansburg is off to its first 2-0 start since 2007, when it went 10-2, shared the Shore Conference Patriot Division championship with Asbury Park and Rumson-Fair Haven and advanced to the NJSIAA Central Group I championship game, where it was defeated by Asbury Park.
Last Saturday, in the Titans’ wild 48-35 win over Group II school Spotswood, Kurtz, had a breakout game. He rushed for 254 yards and four touchdowns and threw for 149 yards with a 21-yard TD pass to Chris Figaro.
“Everything fell into place,” said Kurtz, who according to Kmak is a National Honor Society Student, the point guard for Keansburg’s basketball team and a middle infielder for Keansburg’s baseball team. “Our line blocked. Our receivers caught, they blocked downfield. Everything was perfect.”
What seems to be a perfect fit for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Kurtz is the spread, “Pistol” offensive set Kmak employs.
Keansburg uses many of the principles one sees in triple option football. Kmak will send in a play and Kurtz has to read the defensive front to see what is available. He can either give it to the fullback, a trailing halfback or keep the ball himself. He does have the option to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
“It definitely fits me and my skill set,” Kurtz said. “I might not be the greatest passer, but I can get it done, and it gives me opportunities to run and use my athleticism.”
“I guess, in a lot of programs, he might be a running back,” Kmak said. “In our program, the way we run our offense, we needed a runner at quarterback and a guy who can throw a little bit.”
Kmak said Kurtz’s growth has been gradual. He said two years ago, the “game was too fast” for Kurtz . He said last year, the game “slowed down a bit” for Kurtz when it came to reading defenses. This year, Kmak feels Kurtz is giving the team “consistency at the position.”
“The kids know he’s there,” Kmak said. “He works hard. He doesn’t miss workouts. He goes to camps in the offseason. He’s put in as much time as anybody in any program to get himself better. He’s worked himself into a pretty good, little quarterback.”
Kmak said some of Kurtz’s big plays came on sprint-out pass play calls where Kurtz has the option to either pull the ball down and run or throw it.
“His first option on any sprint out, roll out pass or boot (bootleg) pass we use is to run,” Kmak said. “If he gets the edge and there’s no one there, I don’t want him throwing the football. We found it a little bit easier against Spotswood to get the edge and Ryan took advantage.”
The meat of Keansburg’s schedule is in front of it, starting with Saturday’s game at 2-0 South River. Starting in Week 6, the Titans will play the main contenders in Shore Conference Class B Central — Point Pleasant Beach, Keyport, Shore and Asbury Park — all in a row.
But, with Kurtz running the offense and some of the athletes it has at the skill positions, Keansburg just might be equipped to show the lessons it learned two years ago paid off.