JFK’s Bayuk reaches first state final game of coaching career

THERE are things Jeff Bayuk doesn’t forget. Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000. Canton Fawcett Stadium.

More than 16 years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Stadium was the site of a Division III, Region 9 final between Hubbard and Copley.

Bayuk, who spent 16 seasons at Hubbard, slowly developed the Eagles’ program into a consistent winner after taking over in 1991.

The Eagles were 9-1 in 1996, but only the top four in each region advanced to the postseason then. The playoffs didn’t expand to eight teams per region until 1999.

Hubbard was seventh in 1996.

The Eagles didn’t leave things up to chance in that 2000 season as they finished 7-2 to top Region 9. Copley, which was second in the region that year, met Hubbard in that fateful regional final, winning 17-8.

It is a loss Bayuk carries to this day (having never advanced past a regional final).

That ended this year as the John F. Kennedy Eagles (13-1) reached the Division VII state title game, facing Minster (10-4) at 10 a.m., Saturday at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.

Bayuk, 58, has spent more than 30 years of his coaching career as a head coach, with stops at Canfield, Hubbard, Campbell and JFK as well as various assistant coaching positions.

“If you persevere and you continue to work and you don’t give up, all things are possible,” Bayuk said. “I’ve had some regional final losses that tore my heart out that I can’t let go of until this day.

“I didn’t quit or pout about it. I did what my parents taught me to do, and that was put my head down and work my way through it.”

That’s the attitude JFK has had all season.

Week 2. Jacob Coates breaks his collarbone. He’s out until Week 10. The Eagles’ electrifying playmaker made a comeback and even a late punt return on a snow-covered Strongsville High School field, putting an exclamation point on a emphatic Division VII, Region 25 final victory over Norwalk St. Paul.

In his absence, the Eagles relied on their defense. Ryan Lee, Evan Boyd and Alec Burzynski made their presence know as the three linebackers clamped down on its opponents.

It’s been quite evident as they buried the nation’s leading rusher — Harvest Prep’s Daniel Bangura, who went over 4,000 yards this season. He was held to 76 yards — 61 coming on the final drive, which resulted in Harvest Prep’s only points — in a 48-7 thrashing last Saturday in a state semifinal.

“Every kid has had some kind of obstacle to overcome this year,” Bayuk said. “Somehow they find a way to refocus and take care of business. That’s a quality that gets lost a lot of times in this day of age. Kids don’t get what they want right away, they quit. If they’re not the starter, they quit. We don’t have kids like that. We have kids that work harder to try to become the best player they can be. That’s a lesson you learn every day in your life.

“Here I am 27 years as a head coach and this is the first time I’m going to a state final, as an assistant or a head coach. I’ve been an assistant 10 or 12 of those years. I’ve been in coaching over 35 years.”

Minster rallied to beat Kirtland in the 2014 Division VI state title game.

Minster is part of the vaunted Midwest Athletic Conference — the BEST conference in this state. Thirty state championships in football and 117 in all sports from 1973 to today is proof.

The Wildcats are part of Ohio’s elite with teams like Coldwater, Marion Local, St. Henry, Delphos St. John part of the MAC fold.

This is the tradition JFK faces Saturday.

Like this season, the Eagles are planning a way to persevere. It’s something Bayuk has done his whole coaching career.

“You’ve got to keep working at it and hope one day it comes,” he said of JFK making state. “I talked to a lot of guys in the coaching profession this week who have called to congratulate me and our staff and our kids and said I’ve never been there either.

“We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to work. We’re going to stay focused, but we’re going to enjoy it.”