Taking over at Tigard
TIGARD — There's something to be said about being in the right place at the right time.
But it certainly helps if you put in the hard work, the dedication and the learning to make sure that you're just the right person who makes sure that you're in the right place at the right time.
That seems to be just what John Kemper has done.
Kemper, who has served as an assistant coach for the Tigard High School football team the past 10 years, under head coach Craig Ruecker, is taking over as the Tigers' head coach starting this upcoming 2019 season.
"At the time, you knew it was going to come at some point, when Coach Ruecker was going to be done coaching," Kemper said. "I wanted to set myself up to be the successor. The time came, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity, and, hopefully, we'll be able to keep it rolling."
Kemper's opportunity came earlier this year.
Ruecker, who was the head coach at Tigard the past 10 years — after previously having coaching stints at Reynolds, Glencoe and Redmond — retired from the post following the 2018 season. Ruecker finished his coaching career with a record of 308-155, putting him at the No. 4 spot on the all-time Oregon high school coaching victories list.
Kemper was hired as Tigard's new head football coach back in February.
"The first year Coach Ruecker was here, I was coaching with him, coaching the (offensive) and (defensive) lines," Kemper said. "Since then, I've been building up, getting ready for this opportunity."
And Kemper is pretty enthusiastic about what's ahead for him.
"I'm excited for this opportunity," he said. "We've got great kids here, and a great coaching staff. I think we'll give the kids the opportunity to grow as players, and as people."
Playing and coaching
Kemper, 34, may be new as Tigard's head football coach, but he certainly isn't new to the Portland metro area.
He grew up in Gresham and graduated from Barlow High School in 2003. While at Barlow, he played for longtime (and current) Bruins' head coach Terry Summerfield.
"I played for Terry," Kemper said. "He is one of my close friends, and mentors, to this day. We still talk regularly."
Kemper, who played on the offensive line, played college football at Linfield College in McMinnville, playing for the Wildcats from 2003 through 2007. He then stayed on at Linfield for a year as an offensive line assistant coach.
While at Linfield, one of Kemper's teammates was Dan Lever, who will be starting his third season as Tualatin's head coach this fall.
"Dan Lever and I are close buddies," Kemper said. "He's a great guy, and really relates to kids well."
Also while at Linfield, was roommates with former Beaverton star Jimmy Joyce, who also joins the Three Rivers League's list of head coaches this fall.
"Canby's new head coach (Joyce) is also a Linfield guy," Kemper said. "He and I were actually roommates for a lot of years. We lived together in Linfield for four years, and, when I got the Tigard job, I lived with him up in Beaverton for another four, or five years, until I got married."
This, of course, could lead to some fun, friendly Three Rivers League coaching rivalries in the near future.
"There will be some fun battles between some young Linfield guys in our league," Kemper said. "We're all looking forward to it."
Ready for the call
Following his one year coaching at Linfield, Kemper was looking for a new opportunity.
It came, kind of out of the blue.
"In the winter of 2008, I moved back up this way, and I was looking to get a teaching job, and a coaching job," Kemper said. "Then, one of my other college roommates, who played for Coach Ruecker at Glencoe, called me, when I was up in Seattle, at a Mariners game with some buddies, and said, 'hey, I might have a job for you if you don't have one yet.' He gave me Coach Ruecker's number, and I called him and told him I'd be back from Seattle in a day, or two. I interviewed with him, and he offered me the job, and the rest is history. I've spent the past 10 years coaching under him."
Those 10 years coaching with Ruecker certainly have helped Kemper get ready for his first head coaching job, but he also has other strong influences.
"I've been very fortunate to have the mentors and the coaches I've had," Kemper said. "Obviously with Terry, and Jay Locey and Joe Smith at Linfield, and even Coach (Ad) Rutschman was around when I was there. Even though he wasn't my specific coach, having that influence of Coach Rutschman around, and then Coach Ruecker, meant a lot."
And, Kemper says, he's tried to learn a lot from all of the coaches that he's played for and coached with.
"I think I've taken some from all of them," Kemper said. "I've been so fortunate to have great mentors around me, and there are bits and pieces that I'll be able to take and develop my own philosophies. Linfield and Coach Ruecker are so close in philosophies, and treating young men, developing young players, and never thinking that you're going to go into a year of having to rebuild — you're always just reloading. It's doing things the right way."
Making Tigard home
In addition to coaching at Tigard High School the past 10 years, Kemper has also worked in the Tigard-Tualatin School District during that time.
"When I came on, I worked as a Special Education assistant. Then for half a year, I was at Hazelbrook as a Special Education teacher. Then the PE job opened up here," said Kemper, who got a degree in Physical Education from Linfield, and then got his Masters in Special Education while assisting at Tigard.
Kemper's wife, Kerstin Kemper, also teaches in the district, teaching first grade at Mary Woodward Elementary School. Kerstin Kemper has also coached at McMinnville High School, Linfield, Sweet Home High School and one year as an assistant girls basketball coach at Tigard High School.
The Kempers, who have a 2-year-old daughter, are now at home at Tigard.
"I like it here," John Kemper said. "When I got that phone call back in spring of '09, that Coach Ruecker was coming here, and he might have an opportunity for me, I thought that, if I were to get it, I could see this being a place where you could make a career. My time here has been nothing short of amazing. I've met great people, and, obviously have met a lot of good kids, and we've had a ton of success.
"The community here is awesome. They love their football. They support athletics and academics and all the arts. It's just a very supportive community for the whole high school experience, not just athletics."
Here come the Tigers
Kemper is taking over a Tigard team that has a deep, strong tradition.
The Tigers went 10-2 in 2018, advancing to the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs. Tigard did lose four starters off its powerful offensive line from a year ago, as well as key players on the front seven on defense. But that just may be where the Tigers reload this year.
"We won't lose our roots of what we've been of running the football and being a power football team. But we'll look a little bit different from what we've done in the past," Kemper said. "The concepts are all still there, but, these next few years, with some of the skill guys we have, it's going to look a little bit different. I think it would have been the same thing if Craig was still here. You've got to adjust to what you have when you're coaching public high school football. If you have a big, physical offensive line, you're going to get behind them and pound the rock. But if you have a kid who can sling it around, and have some athletes, you're going to get them out in space."
Tigard does look to return some key players from last year's squad, including junior quarterback Drew Carter (a second-team All-Three Rivers League pick last year), who will be entering his third year as the Tigers' starting quarterback, and senior receiver/defensive back Max Lenzy, who shared the Three Rivers League Defensive Player of the Year honors a year ago, when he had 10 interceptions on the season.
"When you have a kid who is a two-year starter at quarterback (Drew Carter), who is very talented, and when you've got Max (Lenzy) and Tyler (Penn), you have to take advantage of that," Kemper said. "It could be different from year to year. We have a system, a playbook, but it could change if we're a passing team, or a running team, or a balanced team. You have to figure that out each year. That's what's fun about it.
"Defensively, we'll continue to do what we do. We've been a pressure team, while mixing in some zone. We still have the guys that will be doing that. We'll bounce in some different fronts, and different coverages. We'll keep teams off balance. That's something we've done a great job of doing last year."
Putting things together
Kemper's coaching staff at Tigard includes some returning coaches as well as some newcomers to the program.
Mike Fanger, who has been a head coach at Glencoe, West Linn, Lincoln and La Salle Prep in the past, will be the Tigers' offensive coordinator and will also coach the quarterbacks.
Kemper and David Balfour will coach the offensive line. David Sigler will be the receivers coach. Jay Croxton will coach the running backs.
Shane Kessler returns as Tigard's defensive coordinator. Doug Kueffel will coach the outside linebackers. Stace Shillitto will coach the inside linebackers. Matt Brock will coach the defensive line. Former Tigard High School standout Jeremy Austin and Steve Bourasa will also coach on the defensive side of the ball.
The junior varsity and freshmen coaching staff includes Todd Greenough, Mark Bay, Todd Crist and Steve Brennan.
"When I was at Barlow, we didn't have a ton of success when it comes to the wins and losses, but football isn't about wins and losses," Kemper said. "There's so much more than that. And, if you do things the right way, the wins and losses take care of themselves."
Tigard will open its season on Sept. 6, when it plays at Sunset in a non-league game. On Sept. 13, Kemper will have a homecoming of sorts, as the Tigers will travel to Barlow for a non-league game.
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