While the losing streak continued during his first season at the helm, the results were favorable with the Greyhounds and finished with a 4-6 mark.
Since then, Pope has become a playoff contender, going 30-14 the last four years with three playoff appearances and one region championship.
This year’s postseason trip, however, could be in jeopardy with the Greyhounds entering Friday’s 7AAAAA subregion home contest against Osborne sporting a 1-4 record. Pope still has a chance to reach the playoffs with a strong showing in the subregion portion of the schedule and its play-in game, but it will have to play much better in the process.
The key to turning things around will have to start with the players who are on the roster.
“We had some changes in personnel during the offseason and we’re working through that,” Kemper said.
Pope found itself in unknown territory when its returning starting quarterback — Stephen Skruck — decided he didn’t want to play football this season and instead focused on baseball. Also gone was 1,000-yard running back Ronald Woods, who left to concentrate on academics, and 800-yard running Itabari Mason who left for Kell. Linebackers Brooks Climmons and Sean Hatcher graduated, while Joey Tabachino moved out of state.
“You have to play with the guys you have and coach them to be the best they can be,” Kemper said. “I saw some good things in the Northview game (a 28-24 victory for Pope) that we weren’t able to carry over against Cambridge (a 41-32 loss).
“That (Cambridge) game was like a nightmare. That certainly makes you go back to the drawing board on a lot of things. At the same time, our kids are our kids, and they’re good kids and they want to be successful. We as a staff have to do everything we can to help them do that. We had two great days of practice (Monday and Tuesday). Now, we have to make that turn into something. You can look at everything in the world, but when it comes right down to it, they’re 16- and 17-year-old kids and you have to go let them play. Sometimes, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
It’s the unknown that has the Greyhounds community wondering if the playoff streak will end this season. How the team performs over the next month will shed some light.
“There are no easy answers,” Kemper said. “We tell kids all the time that football is a lot like life. There aren’t any easy answers in life or in this game. It’s get to work and try to correct your mistakes. There are no short cuts or simple fixes. It’s not like the NFL when you can go out and pick up a running back off the waiver wire. You have to do the things that our personnel are physically and mentally capable of doing and try to win ball games.”
Regardless of the outcomes, Kemper has seen progress.
“We have a core group of kids that are very positive and have a great work ethic,” he said. “They believe in what we’re doing and they believe in the program. They want to go out there and represent their school and their family with a lot of pride. We’ll always take that over everything.
“You go through a season like this and you have this kind of adversity, kids leave the team and things like that. We’re going to come back each day and work with the ones that are here and want to be here and do the best we can.”