Alter grad steps up as leader for Wittenberg offensive line

Tommy Gerhard part of offense that ranks among best in nation

Four poster boards listing goals for the team, offense, defense and special times line a wall outside the Wittenberg football team’s locker room at the HPER Center. For years, coaches have used these boards, which list a number of specific goals but one general goal at the top of each board: Win.

For just over two years now, at least in the regular season, the Wittenberg Tigers have succeeded in accomplishing their No. 1 goal each week. Their winning streak reached 20 games Saturday with a 41-14 victory at Allegheny. Their last loss came on Oct. 15, 2016.

» FEATURES: Running game | Crowe brothers | Jonathan Seay| Freshman starting on O-line |Jake Kennedy

Among the many players responsible for the winning streak is senior offensive lineman Tommy Gerhard. The Alter High School graduate had to wait until his senior year in 2014 to earn as starting job with the Knights and started that season for a team that finished 14-1 and lost in the state title game.

At Wittenberg, Gerhard won a starting job at left guard as junior and now snaps the ball to record-breaking quarterback Jake Kennedy, a fellow member of the 2015 recruiting class, each week as Wittenberg’s starting center.

The two bonded early in their careers before either of them were seeing action on Saturdays.

“When I was a freshman, we had some (starters) who had to leave to do night classes on Thursday, which is when we run our two-minute drill (in practice), and I got to go in with Jake,” Gerhard said. “We were some of the first freshmen to get reps with the older guys, and I kind of felt a bond with Jake. As a quarterback, he definitely cares about his offensive linemen. He tries to pick us up if we mess up. We try to pick him up if he messes up.”

Kennedy needed Gerhard this fall. He was the only returning starter on the offensive line. Three starters lost to graduation earned All-North Coast Athletic Conference first-team honors: Luke Jahnke, Brenden Jurden and Scott Turner.

Talking to another returning lineman who saw action last season and starts this season, junior Nick Treboni-Hogan, Gerhard said, “We’ve got to start stepping up. We’ve got to be leaders.”

It’s hard to argue with the results. Wittenberg’s offense ranks eighth in the country in scoring (46.7 points per game).

Kennedy ranks fourth in passing touchdowns (24). He became Wittenberg’s career leader in passing yards two weeks ago and needs eight more touchdowns to pass his offensive coordinator, Reed Florence, and break the school record for career touchdown passes. Florence threw 74 touchdown passes between 2010 and 2013.

» ALUMNI NEWS: Former Tiger leading turnaround at Marietta

The offensive line deserves some credit for protecting Kennedy. The players around him, including Gunnar Doran, the first freshman offensive lineman to start at Wittenberg since 2002, have helped Gerhard become a leade.

“The way they’ve continued to get better, it makes it easier on me as as senior, and it makes it easier on Jake in the pocket,” Gerhard said. “Every week, we keep getting better and keep working as a team.”

POLL NEWS: Wittenberg (6-0, 5-0), which hosts DePauw at 1 p.m. Saturday, moved from ninth to eight in the American Football Coaches Association poll. It's the highest it has ranked since it climbed as high as sixth in 2010. The Tigers moved from No. 16 to No. 14 in the poll.

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