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Koree Krupinski and Josh Krupinski have the same routine after every game.
Following Coach Mark Perry’s talk with the team, the cousins take a walk.
If the game is at Bruin Field, Koree – Central Hardin’s star junior quarterback – and Josh – the Bruins’ standout senior defensive end – head to the south end zone where, in the midst of lawn chairs that surround the end lines, is a group of family members consisting of their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. At road games, the contingent is typically the same size, and the Krupinskis are almost always among the last players to retreat to the locker room and board the bus.
The ritual, which started last season, has been especially enjoyable this season thanks to Central Hardin (10-1) earning its best regular season record in school history and being the program’s first team with double-digit wins. Koree’s younger brother Gavin, a sophomore who starts at safety, will also greet the family, but he admits he sometimes forgets to talk with everyone and will call them when he gets home to thank them for coming.
“It’s nice to have everyone coming to every game, even the away games,” Josh said. “We have a lot of support over there.”
They are all just thankful they’ll be able to do it together at least once more when No. 8 Central Hardin plays Friday at No. 7 McCracken County (9-2) in the second round of the Class 6-A state playoffs.
Whether they would be able to was in doubt during the second quarter of last Friday’s game against Daviess County. It wasn’t an issue of the Bruins advancing – they were up 35-0 and wound up winning 48-0 – but whether Josh would be able to play.
On the fateful play, the 6-foot-4, 245 pound Krupinski was trying to make a tackle and had his forearm on the facemask of a Daviess County ballcarrier when someone hit him in the back of the elbow. He said he felt a pop and it went numb instantly. Though it’s hyper-extended and Josh said he can still barely move it, he is going to wear a brace and give it a go Friday.
“I’ve got to suck it up for the team,” Josh said. “It’s my senior year. I’m a big part of the defense, so I’ve got to play.”
This week may be the final time the trio takes the field together, like they have since they were little kids. Josh and Koree won three championships in elementary school playing in the Elizabethtown Area Youth Football league and Gavin was part of the third one. They grew up playing football, baseball and basketball in the yard with a group which included senior linebacker Ryan Kelly and North Hardin sophomore linebacker Shae Krupinski, who is also their cousin.
Koree is constantly at Josh’s house – he said he can’t remember the last weekend he wasn’t – and along with Gavin, they go hunting and four-wheeling.
“They’ll give each other a hard time,” Perry said. “If one has a sore ankle, they’ll kick (each other) in the ankle. If Josh has a sore shoulder, Koree is going to slap him in his shoulder. That’s just how those things work, but they all care about one another in the end. They fight like brothers but they really do care about the other’s well being. That’s fun to have on our football team.
“They’re all different,” he added. “As much as you hear Koree is as little as you hear Gavin.”
All three Krupinskis have been a big part of Central Hardin’s most successful season since the school opened in 1990.
In his second year as the starting quarterback, Koree’s growth is a big reason why the 5-7 record last year is in the rearview mirror. While he tossed 16 touchdown passes, he also threw 16 interceptions. This year, the 5-11, 175-pound Krupinski has thrown 21 touchdowns – three of which have gone to Josh – against just seven picks, and that’s on top of rushing for 571 yards and eight scores.
“I didn’t really understand how much experience really helped you and knowing what you’re doing,” he said. “I would look at the defense and just see people over there. I didn’t really know what they were doing and I just threw the ball.”
There have been times when Koree has willed the team to wins, like when he rallied the Bruins from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit against Bullitt East with two highlight-reel touchdown runs. But it’s his leadership on the field that stands out to his coach.
“Koree is probably one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever had,” Perry said. “He does a lot of things on sheer determination to do it. He throws well and runs well and all that stuff, but his will to win is unmatched by just about any kid I’ve coached.”
Josh, who Perry calls hard-nosed and physical, is also in his second season starting and regularly is wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields. He has used his long arms to block several punts and has 61 tackles and two fumble recoveries this season.
As good as he is on the gridiron, football may not even be Josh’s best sport. In two seasons pitching on the Bruins’ baseball team, both of which were region championship squads, he is 21-3 with a 1.37 ERA. With the injury being to his right, throwing elbow, Josh is unsure if he’ll be able to pitch this season. He plans on playing football and baseball at Western Kentucky.
“Just whatever season it is really,” Josh said of his favorite sport. “You can’t get any better than high school football. You’ve got the fans, the lights and everything. The football team is all brothers. Everybody likes each other. It’s been awesome playing with everyone. I’m going to miss it.”
Gavin has taken a major leap this season after starting two games a freshman. Though he missed one game and parts of several others with a hamstring injury, the 5-10, 160-pounder has been a mainstay in the starting lineup with 48 tackles and one fumble recovery.
“I like being out there with Josh and everybody, plus I have some sophomore friends out there with me this year,” Gavin said. “It’s a lot better. It’s a whole bunch of people we played little league with.”
In one three-play sequence last week, Josh laid a big hit on Daviess County quarterback Luke Bailey and Gavin delivered a crushing blow to a Daviess County wideout resulting in an incompletion.
“I have no idea what it feels like, but for Josh and Gavin to play defense together on varsity, I bet that’s something special,” Koree said. “I love watching them play defense together, just how they interact.”
All three have dedicated this season to their late uncle, Ronnie, and they’ve made it a memorable one. They also recognize, however, the end of a special era is near.
“It’ll be a lot different,” Koree said of not having Josh around next season. “I don’t really like to think about it. That’s why I tell them we have one shot at it and this is it, so let’s go do it.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or email@example.com.