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2017 Prep Football Previews: Conner lineman worked with coach to become Division I college recruit

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The NKyTribune is featuring each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2017 season on Aug. 18. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Christopher Decker
NKyTribune contributor

When Conner offensive guard Peyton Knippenberg began playing varsity football as a sophomore, he doubted if he would be recruited by any Division I college teams.

Peyton Knippenberg, right, is one of three returning starters on the offensive line for Conner. (Photos by Rocio Flores-Walls on Cougar Time Facebook page)

“I just didn’t feel like I had the size to be a Division I player, just seeing offensive lineman that are 6-5 and 6-6,” Knippenberg said. “Once schools started coming and seeing me and asking me to come visit, I realized I did fit in that tier and I could play at that level. I got really excited and was really ready for it.”

While the size and mobility have always been there, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior had to work with Conner head coach Dave Trosper to improve in one key area before he committed to Eastern Kentucky University last June.

“The biggest thing for him was his aggressiveness,” Trosper said. “He had to get his aggressiveness to be able to do the thing he needed to do and to be able to finish blocks. To be able to get to that next level, you have to become a great player and that means doing all the little things better. He’s done those type of things and he continues to get better with the weight room, with the footwork.”

After Knippenberg made his college commitment, he told his mom “tons of weight just got lifted off my shoulders” and he could focus on his senior season with the Cougars.

Knippenberg was not only an anchor on the Conner offensive line last season, but he also made 54 tackles on defense for a team that finished 9-3 after losing to Scott County in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. The Cougars lost 22 players to graduation last spring, but Knippenberg is one of 19 seniors returning for the 2017 season.

Conner coach Dave Trosper

“Since I’ve been here, the ability to lose that many seniors has been okay when we’ve been able to bounce back with a large number of (returning players) in the next senior class,” Trosper said. “I feel like we have the capabilities and got some guys we feel pretty good about.”

Senior center Josh Walls and senior guard James Neal are the Cougars’ other returning offensive linemen. It’s the first time in 11 years as the head coach that Trosper as had three starters return up front.

“It’s going to be huge,” Trosper said. “They help each other and communicate well, and when you play in the trenches that’s what it is all about.”

Senior Cooper Gullion and sophomore Jared Hicks are competing for the chance to start at quarterback. Trosper hopes the one who wins the starting job will feel comfortable as a result of the strong offensive line.

“Hopefully, it will give us the opportunity to get our quarterbacks that haven’t started an opportunity to get their feet wet and an opportunity to feel protected,” the coach said.

The Cougars will also have weapons like wide receivers Matt Simpson and Jaylen Watkins and running backs Trevor Courts and Christian Webster supporting the team’s new quarterback.

“From a skills standpoint, we have some guys that we feel can do some things to cause people problems,” Trosper said.

While getting past the second round of the playoffs and bidding for a state championship are the main goals this season, Knippenberg has been trying to improve team chemistry. He has become close friends with the other senior linemen and they can often be found at a nearby pond fishing or swimming together.

“It’s really fun. We laugh and joke around,” Knippenberg said. “It is good bonding time and it’s stuff you’ll look back on 20 years from now and have a good smile.”

Over the summer, Knippenberg and a few of his teammates planned a trip to White Rock Park in Indiana. He  hopes the bonding Conner players have done will carry them to a successful season and last into adulthood.

“The one thing I want to see out of this whole team, especially this senior group, is I want to be able to know every one of them just as well as I do now 10 years from now,” Knippenberg said. “I want the brotherhood to stay together forever. I want the biggest key to this team to be the brotherhood and the winning will come after it.”

CONNER COUGARS
2016 SEASON:
9-3 record, lost in second round of Class 6A playoffs.
DISTRICT: Class 6A, District 5 with Cooper and Ryle.
HEAD COACH: Dave Trosper (78-78 in 14 seasons overall, 65-51 in 10 seasons at Conner).

2017 SCHEDULE
Aug. 25 – BOONE COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 – SIMON KENTON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 – at Scott, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 – at Dixie Heights, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 – NEWPORT CENTRAL CATH0LIC, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 – LLOYD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 – CAMPBELL COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Ryle, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 – COOPER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 – at Fredrick Douglass, 7:30 p.m.

Other NKyTribune prep football previews:
DAYTON GREENDEVILS
COVINGTON CATHOLIC COLONELS
BISHOP BROSSART MUSTANGS
WALTON-VERONA BEARCATS

COOPER JAGUARS
SCOTT EAGLES
LUDLOW PANTHERS
HIGHLANDS BLUEBIRDS
LLOYD JUGGERNAUTS
NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC  THOROUGHBREDS
NEWPORT WILDCATS

BOONE COUNTY REBELS
BELLEVUE TIGERS
BEECHWOOD TIGERS

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