Kaplan football coach Stephen “Tank” Lotief wasn’t about to attempt to split hairs.
Trying to distinguish exactly where senior Kerry Kass — a two-way starter — is most indispensable to the No. 9 Pirates would have been an exercise in futility.
“He’s valuable everywhere,” Lotief said. “He wants to be on the field and doesn’t like being on the sideline. He’s not the biggest or fastest kid. But if we need something, he’s the man to get it done.”
When examining the reasons in Kaplan’s turnaround from an 0-2 start to a team taking a 7-2 record and 4-0 league mark into Friday’s showdown for the District 6-3A championship at No. 8 Notre Dame of Crowley, there’s not a better place to start than Kass, a three-year starter.
“I’m having a pretty good season,” Kass said. “I’m trying my best, working hard and making sure I have no regrets. I hope it turns out to be a great one in the end.”
Kass’ impact on both sides of the ball — along with his contributions on special teams — are measured equally for a team best known for standout defensive end/tight end Jalen Bates, an Arizona State commitment.
During Lotief’s tenure, Kaplan has prided itself on an aggressive hard-nosed defense, which Kass — a 6-foot, 190-pounder — has assumed a myriad of responsibilities. He has brought to the defense on-the-field leadership and versatility.
Kass has been entrusted by the coaching staff to take the signals from the sideline and make the calls to get his teammates correctly aligned.
“We have a lot of checks so he’s got to put us in the right defense,” Lotief said. “We’re very multiple, and lot of stuff’s on the fly, so and if we don’t get a check in he’s like the quarterback of the defense. He pretty much runs the defense.”
Kass’ defensive career has consisted of playing both linebacker positions in Kaplan’s 4-2-5 scheme, where he’s moved more to the inside position over his previous experience in the middle of the defense.
Lotief said a prime of example of Kass’ flexibility where, depending on the pass coverage call, Kass can walk up and give Kaplan another defensive lineman or drop back into coverage.
“I’ve worked hard all four years,” Kass said. “They’ve moved me around trying to find a good position, and I’ve taken advantage of that. They’ve made me a hybrid player, and I enjoy it a lot. It gives me a lot of opportunities to make plays.”
Since the first two games of the season, Kaplan’s defense has limited three opponents to a touchdown or less. During the team’s four-game win streak in district, the Pirates haven’t permitted more than 14 points in any game.
Kass has registered 47 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in a 28-14 win over Iowa in the fourth week of the season.
Kass also reached the end zone as recently as last week with Kaplan involved in a struggle with archrival Abbeville.
With his team trailing 14-7 in the second quarter Kass, a second-team all-district tight end last season known more for his blocking skills, caught his third pass of the season — breaking a tackle and outracing a couple of defenders to complete a 43-yard scoring play and provide a spark in a 22-14 victory.
“We were expected to blow them out, and that’s when I came with the touchdown catch,” Kass said. “I try to do things like that. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s kind of like getting a paycheck.”
Special teams have been another area Kass has thrived, handling all of Kaplan’s deep-snapping responsibilities — an area of expertise that might result in college opportunities.
“He’s just a good kid that works extremely hard,” Lotief said. “He’s a student of the game and just knows what’s going on.
He’s consistent and leads by example because of his work ethic. Whatever we need, he wants to do it.”