Upon taking a handoff and exploding to the line of scrimmage or getting set to make a cut to his left, Jacob Kronebusch is planting his right foot with confidence.
During Ozark’s summer camp, the Tigers senior running back isn’t hesitant to put all of his weight on his right foot, after it was broken a year ago.
“I think my right foot has become stronger and more stable than my left foot,” Kronebusch said. “Our training staff has worked with it so much.”
Likewise, he reports his rehab went so well he was aware during track season in the spring that he was running better than ever.
“Coach (Shawn) Widel got me a lot faster,” Kronebusch said, referring to Ozark’s sprints coach. “I got my explosiveness and speed back. I’m feeling really good.”
Kronebusch appeared primed to burst upon the COC scene in a big way last year. As a sophomore two years ago, he showed his potential by carrying the ball 32 times for 262 yards rushing (8.2 avg.), to go along with 29 tackles at inside linebacker.
But his junior season was over before it could officially ever get started He broke several bones in his foot while trying to escape the grasp of a defender in Ozark’s jamboree.
“Somebody grabbed my foot and I tried to kick out of it,” Kronebusch said. “I felt a couple things pop. I was hurt and laid on the ground. Things changed very fast.”
Coach Chad Depee agonized over the injury and its timing.
“It was probably the last rep he was going to get that night,” Depee said.
Ultimately, it proved to be a season-ending injury. A comeback bid proved premature.
“I wanted to come back so badly that I figured I would try. I tried to work back into it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to. I tried to practice in Week Six and it did not go very well,” Kronebusch said. “I ended up breaking another bone in my foot because it was not ready to come back. After that, I realized, 'I wasn't going to be able to come back that season.’”
“He busted his tail to try to get back, did everything he could,” Depee said. “It was one of those unfortunate deals.”
Depee related he hasn’t had many players respond to an injury with a champion’s character in the manner Kronebusch did.
“I tried to stay with the team as much as I could and support them and teach the underclassmen,” Kronebusch said.
“I watched him grow through the whole process,” Depee said. “It was tough for all of us. We had high expectations for him. It was a tough personal thing he had to deal with.
“But he was locked in with us the entire season. He was still with us and supporting everyone. In the role had to take, he did a tremendous job,” Depee added. “To watch him deal with it, grow up and stay invested in the team the whole time, that stuck with me.”
The sight of Kronebusch flashing his breakaway speed as a sophomore also has stayed with Depee. Kronebusch broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run and ran 88 yards for a touchdown after a fumble recovery.
Kronebusch obviously doesn’t have the experience of Carthage senior stud Luke Gall, the reigning Missouri Class 5 Offensive Player Of The Year. But both of them are in the 6-foot-0, 200-pound range and have exceptional speed for big men.
Gall has had plenty of chances to show off his talents going all the way back to his freshman season. Now, Ozark hopes it’s Kronebusch’s turn.
“It's such a special skill that he has — he’s a big, strong kid and also has that speed,” Depee said. “Football is a speed game. That gives him an advantage. We saw that as a sophomore. His speed helps him on the defensive side. He had a tremendous off-season and we are thankful he is back on the field. He's looking great. We're excited to see his skills back in action.”
“I'm so excited,” Kronebusch said. “I haven't had a snap of ‘Friday Night Football’ in almost two years. I'm very excited to come back.”
Just as Gall stars on offense and defense, Ozark’s plan for Kronebusch is to let him loose on both sides of the ball.
“You can expect him to be a big physical presence on the offensive side and on the defensive side he'll be at D-end trying to cause havoc,” Depee said. “We can't wait to see how he contributes.”
Kronebusch’s conditioning will obviously be tested. To that end, he’s certainly gotten himself acclimated to the 90- and 100-degree heat. In addition to summer camp workouts, he’s also been out under the sun while mowing grass all over Ozark’s school grounds.
Kronebusch and several other Tigers have worked in the school’s maintenance department over the summer.
“I always have a water bottle on me,” he said.
He’s happy he’ll also be constantly on the go on Friday nights and is confident his conditioning will allow him to do so.
“I love defense. You go out there and hit someone as hard as you can while doing your job. You can hit somebody and nobody is going to get mad at you,” Kronebusch said. “If you're going to be playing both ways, you've got to be able to go and go and go without stopping. If I had the choice, I would not come off the field.”