Over a month before he was approved as head coach, Kirby Brubaker was already leading the Northeastern football program.
After nine years in charge of the Bobcats, Jon Scepanski took the head coaching position at Conestoga Valley at the beginning of May. There were no hard feelings since Scepanski lives much closer to that school in Lancaster County, but he did put Northeastern in the less-than-ideal position of looking for a new coach right before the start of summer workouts.
The defensive coordinator the past five seasons, Brubaker immediately started running workouts even though he wouldn’t know until June if the head coaching position would be his.
“Whether it was me or someone else (who got the head job), the kids needed a steady figure to help them improve,” Brubaker said. “I didn’t want a coaching change to be a reason to disengage. I wanted to make sure there was a direction. It wasn’t about me. I wanted to do right by our players since they invested so much time in it.”
Brubaker was officially approved as Northeastern’s head coach this week. An eighth grade science teacher in the district, Brubaker takes over a program that struggled the past two years but previously was competitive in YAIAA Division I.
Northeastern athletic director Bryan Stephens said the district knew Brubaker would be a candidate for the position when Scepanski resigned. Scepanski needed to be approved for a teaching job at Conestoga Valley, which is why his hiring there took place later than usual.
“The kids love him. It’s very rare to hear someone say a bad word about him,” Stephens said about Brubaker. “He’s enthusiastic and he’s been waiting a long time to do this. But he’s someone who if we did go with a different person, I think he would have stayed on as coordinator. That’s just who he is.
“Jon is a straight shooter and very direct with instructions but not the most talkative. Kirby has the communication gift and can talk all day to anyone ― male, female, kid, 65-year-old adult, it doesn’t matter.”
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A 1991 South Western graduate, Brubaker has learned from a lot of accomplished coaches in his life.
He played offensive line for the legendary South Western coach Don Seidenstricker. He had two stints as an assistant under former longtime successful Dallastown coach Kevin Myers. And he was a coordinator for a handful of District 3 playoff teams under Scepanski at Northeastern.
Brubaker also coached at Eastern York before and after his first stint at Dallastown. He coached under three head coaches ― Jeff Shutter, Cory Miller and his brother, Richard Brubaker ― with the Golden Knights and was defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator at different points.
“I learned a little from all of them,” he said. “Don was a tremendous motivator. He was great at getting the team pulling in one direction. His biggest thing was taking care of the little details. Kevin was just a tremendous team builder. He built relationships. His teams were always tight-knit and you felt supported.
“And Jon probably prepared me the most by giving me autonomy. He gave me a lot of freedom but we had frank discussions about why he made certain decisions. He really pulled back the curtain on being a head coach. He was just incredibly consistent and an easy guy to work for.”
Northeastern made the District 3 playoffs four times from 2015 to 2019, but the Bobcats went just 3-14 the past two seasons. And YAIAA Division I should be very competitive once again this fall with York High, Central York and Dallastown among the potential contenders.
Brubaker said the team brings back experience on both lines and at linebacker and secondary. Last year’s backup quarterback, junior Konnor Reeser, is splitting reps at the position with some younger players, according to Brubaker.
Brubaker also said the Bobcats will run a multiple-I offense based around a power run game after experimenting with the veer and the triple-option the past two seasons. He said he’s retained “pretty much” the entire coaching staff from last year.
He acknowledged that even after preparing to become a head coach, there is still a learning curve. But he’s trying to keep his players on the immediate tasks at hand as they continue to rebuild the program.
“I’m not thinking about games down the road,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on what we’re getting done in camp and then our sole focus is Dover in Week 1. We have to do everything with a purpose that helps us be the most competitive and everything else will work itself out. “
Northeastern is the sixth YAIAA school to change head football coaches this offseason along with Dallastown, Spring Grove, Susquehannock, Eastern York and York Catholic.
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, email@example.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.