While most high school seniors were in bed on summer mornings, Johnny Kruse was preparing for football season.
Kruse and his Rock Bridge football teammates worked out weekdays at 6:30 a.m. He said the practices were good for conditioning, although he would have preferred a different time.
“I’m not a morning person, but it’s something you’ve got to do,” Kruse said.
Kruse apparently didn’t sleepwalk through the workouts because he has become the Bruins’ leading receiver. He set a state mark with 14 receptions Oct. 24, snapping the record of 13, which had been accomplished six times.
Coach A.J. Ofodile’s questions about finding someone to replace Curt Bradley have been answered; Kruse is one of four receivers the Bruins have used to fill the role Bradley had last season in catching a school-record 77 passes.
On Kruse’s record-setting night, he had as many catches as the Bruins’ returning players had last year.
Demond Thorpe, Scott Russell and Andy Burks have combined with Kruse to give quarterback Chase Patton, a national recruit, plenty of options in the passing game.
Although the receiving core seemed to be a major concern for the Bruins, Ofodile said he wasn’t worried.
“I think it was a concern for other people,” Ofodile said. “I knew we had good people. I knew Demond was going to be a big time weapon; he’s a guy that has got big-time potential. I knew Johnny could do the things he can do; he can run, he’s physical; he’s got great hands.
“The only question was, who’s going to end up filling what roles? Who was going to be the guy to step up? Fortunately for us, all of them stepped up.”
The Bruins have relied on Kruse to gain big yards. Patton often throws to Kruse in the flat and lets him run for most of his yardage.
Ofodile planned to get Kruse the ball as much as possible this season, even if it meant Kruse would line up as quarterback. Kruse has lined up in shotgun formation at quarterback several times on a designed draw play, one that he took 68 yards for a touchdown against Marshall on Sept. 26.
“Ofodile’s had trust in me ever since the start of this season and knew I could get the job done; and so did I,” Kruse said.
Rock Bridge’s receivers have helped make it a more balanced team, with each receiver adding different attributes. Kruse has the ability to make players miss tackles, Thorpe has speed and jumping ability, Russell has good hands and Burks adds a fourth option.
“They’re all different from Curt,” Ofodile said. “We didn’t try to replace (Bradley), we just retooled the offense and played to what our strengths were.”
Kruse and the Bruins (7-2, 0-2) finish their seasons at 7 tonight at the Springfield-Kickapoo Chiefs (5-4, 0-2).
Along with Kruse, Thorpe is a big yardage threat. Thorpe has been Rock Bridge’s big-play receiver, averaging 19.3 yards per catch.
Thorpe’s longest reception was 52 yards against Helias on Oct. 18. That catch started the Bruins’ offense, which had stalled until that point. Rock Bridge rolled to a 34-7 win.
Thorpe said the summer workouts helped him improve and showed Ofodile who wanted to play.
“I think it was for coach to see who was really dedicated to it to really get up and come to the workouts,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe sat out the first two games to complete a transfer requirement. His family moved from the Rock Bridge school district into Hickman’s, which meant he had to file a transfer to remain at Rock Bridge.
Thorpe also plays basketball for Rock Bridge, which helps him at receiver.
“Being a wide receiver, playing basketball really helps with the moves you’ve got to make,” Thorpe said. “It’s really not that much different; Coach Ofodile always compares football moves to basketball moves. I never looked at it that way until he pointed that out to me. It’s really not any different except for the ball.”
While Thorpe and Kruse have made big plays, Russell is often overlooked, but has made his share of plays as well. He has the longest reception of the year, a 54-yard catch against Mexico on Sept. 5.
Russell has been on the field for almost every play; he also plays cornerback and kicker.
According to Russell, a receiver’s ability to run a pass route correctly is most important.
“You’ve got to know what you’re doing,” Russell said. “You’ve got to run a good route to get open. If you can’t run a good route, you’re not going to get open and you’re not going to get the ball.”