GREENVILLE — Greenville senior Kyle Bruner is following in the footsteps of his high school football coach and continuing his football career at Wittenberg University.
Bruner, the son of Teresa Bruner and the late Kevin Bruner, signed his letter of intent on Monday afternoon to play college football for Wittenberg, which is where Greenville varsity football coach Aaron Shaffer played in college and spent six years as an assistant coach.
“I’m really excited and really blessed to be able to continue my career,” Bruner said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s something neat to be able to play at my coach’s alma mater, who I look up to with the highest level of respect. It’s going to be a great four years for me, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Both Shaffer and his wife are Wittenberg alumni. Shaffer played at Wittenberg from 1995-98 and then was an assistant coach there from 1999-2004.
“We’re certainly proud of the fact that he’s going to go represent Greenville at Wittenberg,” the Green Wave coach said. “I have no doubt that he’s going to do great things.
“Kyle is certainly a deserving young man. Works hard. He’s dealt with some adversity in his life. And to be able to overcome the adversity that he had early in his middle school, junior high years. Has a great family that supports him. I’m super proud of him.”
Bruner, who will study either sports management or education in college, said Wittenberg was the first college program to contact him after his junior year of high school football.
The Tigers’ pursuit of him plus the connection to the university through Shaffer were big influences in his decision to pick Wittenberg, along with its tradition of success in football, the Greenville senior said.
“Since they were my first call, they always had that push. And coach Shaffer being a Wittenberg grad, I look up to him, and that had a big push in it,” Bruner said. “They’re definitely a winning football program, and that’s definitely something I want to step in to, get somewhere where I have a great chance to succeed and win and possibly bring home a couple national titles or league championships.”
Wittenberg, which plays in the North Coast Athletic Conference, won the first NCAA Division III football national championship in 1973. The Tigers also won the 1975 national championship.
Last year Wittenberg was ranked 10th in the nation and finished the season 10-2, winning 10 consecutive games before losing in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament to eventual national runner up Mount Union.
Two of Bruner’s classmates, Zach Comer and Ryan Drew, signed their letters of intent this year to play for Mount Union. The Greenville teammates are excited about potentially playing each other at the college level, Bruner said.
“It will definitely be fun playing against Ryan Drew and Zach Comer, hopefully, in the future,” he said. “We joke through the hallways and when we hang out together who’s going to end up winning in the playoffs. We give each other a hard time, but it’s definitely something that we’re looking forward to.”
Having three players from the class of 2014 go on to play at the college level is a great accomplishment for the Greenville football program, Shaffer said.
“It speaks to our kids, No. 1, and their families,” the Green Wave coach said. “But I think it speaks to the direction of our program. To be able to send three guys in a season to national-caliber programs, it speaks volumes to what we’re trying to do. There aren’t many schools out there that can say that they’ve sent three quality athletes to good programs.”
Bruner played offensive and defensive line during his high school career. The former Green Wave center will play along the interior of the Wittenberg offensive line, possibly at center or guard.
“They have a couple guys back, so it will definitely take some hard work to find myself on the playing field,” Bruner said.
With Shaffer having played and coached at Wittenberg, the Green Wave utilize many aspects of the Tigers’ system, Shaffer said. That familiarity along with Bruner’s physicality, understanding of the game and aggression will be strengths for him at the college level, Shaffer said.
“Our system is very similar to what Wittenberg’s doing,” Shaffer said. “He’s going to fit in over there very well having learned that system.”
Joe Fincham became Wittenberg’s head coach for Shaffer’s sophomore season of college football. The coach, whom Shaffer described as the second-most influential man in his life after his stepfather, will get along great with Bruner, he said.
“I feel very confident that Kyle’s going to go over there, and he’ll fit right in with coach Fincham,” Shaffer said. “Kyle’s demeanor is very similar to coach Fincham. They’re very hard-nosed type people but have a passion for the game and getting a great education.”
In his 18 seasons as Wittenberg’s head coach, Fincham has a 164-37 record. He’s never had a losing season and only had one non-winning record, a 5-5 mark in 2005. Since 2007 the Tigers have had two or fewer losses each season.
“All the people down there are welcome you with open arms, and the football team is great,” said Bruner, who’s visited the campus three or four times including an overnight visit on Friday. “It’s exciting because all the guys are there for one purpose, and that’s to win.”
Bruner wasn’t ready to end his football career when his high school career ended, he said, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of playing for one of the nation’s top college programs.
“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge,” Bruner said. “You’re going to have to step in and work hard. It’s going to be a lot harder than anything I’ve dealt with in high school. But it’s definitely a challenge I’m willing to tackle and take on. It’s something that I’m excited for, to get into a program that’s so prestigious as Wittenberg. It’s pretty exciting.”