Jeff Schank never played Kuna while he was a football player at Capital High. But being in the area, he was well aware of the reputation the Kavemen had of being tough and gritty.
It’s that reputation that Kuna’s new coach is trying to instill in a program which won a 4A state title two years ago before struggling in its first year at 5A in 2020.
“5A is good football,” said Schank, who was an assistant coach at Kuna the last two seasons. “I coached in California for several years in a pretty competitive league and what I saw last year was pretty impressive. Those teams are well-coached, they’re disciplined and there’s athletes everywhere.”
Since coming from California, Schank served as Kuna’s offensive line coach in 2019 before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator in 2020. In March he earned a promotion for the second year in a row after former coach Sherm Blaser took the job at newly opened Owyhee. It is Schank’s second head coaching job, following a stint at Rosamond (California) High, where he led the Roadrunners to a High Desert League title and a CIF Championship Game appearance.
“I think I kind of hit the jackpot here,” Schank said. “Kuna is an awesome community. We’ve got a fantastic district that’s filled with people that are extremely supportive of athletics and what we’re trying to build.”
While Schank is excited to get a chance to rebuild Kuna to its glory days of the not so distant past, he knows it will be a challenge at first. Kuna lost all its remaining pieces leftover from the 2019 state title team and has just two returning defensive starters and none on offense.
“We have a total of 14 seniors total in the program,” Schank said. “So we’re going to be a very young group and rely on those young guys. We’ll make some young guy mistakes, that’s bound to happen, but we have some talent in some of these younger classes. So the cupboards are full and we’re excited about the future. But I’m pretty confident that we’ll be pretty competitive this year, as well.”
Both returning starters will be junior linebackers. Logan Blades and Gus Austin will provide valuable experience to a unit which is installing a new defense.
“It’s way more technical and there’s a lot more rules,” Schank said about the new defense. “You’ve really got a smart player and it takes a ton of reps. So having those two dudes in the middle kind of running things, recognizing things in different formations, it does a lot of good for us.”
The Kavemen are also hoping to get back senior Iziak Kelso at some point this season, a starting cornerback last year, but he’s been battling injuries in the preseason and is currently unavailable. Senior Antonio Basterrechea will have one of the starting cornerback spots. There’s currently a battle for the other spot should Kelso not be ready to go, but Schank has been impressed with Jason Monroe, a California transfer. Kaleb Berger and Kayden Hofler will take up two of the safety spots in Kuna’s 3-3-5 defense. The free safety spot is still open for competition.
While there are no returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, there are some new starters who Schank is excited about. He raved about junior quarterback Cole Luekenga, who has the tough task of stepping in for Sean Austin, now on the Montana State roster.
“It’s a completely different style of quarterback, but he is one of the smartest individuals I’ve been around,” Schank said about Luekenga. “He understands what we’re trying to do offensively, he knows what defenses are trying to do against us and he puts the ball in the right spot more often than he doesn’t.”
Junior running back Isaac Garcia is another player who Schank said can be a “special one.”
“He works harder than any athlete I’ve ever seen,” the coach said. “He’s 100 percent bought in and he’s got great talent, great pad level and just a motor. He’s going to be tough to bring down.”
The Kavemen also have senior receivers Brayden White and Victor Villarreal, both of whom got into the rotation last year. Schank also thinks sophomores Luke Selto and Luke Snarr can have solid years at that position as well.
On the offensive line senior Ian Carter, who moves from defense to center, and senior right guard Jacob Linden, another California transfer, are expected to anchor the group. The other three linemen will be sophomores, as Jaxon Peterson and Andrey Pelayo will take the two tackles sports and Gavin Hindle will play left guard.
“You line them up them up with any senior, and they’re still the dudes I pick,” Schank said about the three sophomore linemen. “They’re still learning our system and what we do, but from a pure technique standpoint, they’re head and shoulders above a lot of people.”