By VINCE PELUSO
The Jefferson football team did something many people didn’t see coming heading into the 2012 season — the Falcons threw.
Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson let first-year starting quarterback Tony Chiacchiero air the ball out, which led 22 touchdown strikes and a plethora of yards.
On the receiving end of 31 of Chiacchiero’s tosses was Kyle Ashburn. Ashburn racked up 502 yards receiving and an impressive 16.2 yards per reception in scoring 66 points for the Falcons, second only to running back Scott Davidson.
In an offense that allowed him to showcase his talents, Ashburn will take those talents to Mercyhurst next year where he will continue his education and football career.
“I liked the location a lot, there was a lot of job placement for my major and the coaching staff really stuck out to me,” he said. “The coaches seemed the most eager to get me on campus and show me around. The campus is great because it’s located in Erie, so it has all the benefits of being close to Erie and the city.
“But when you’re on campus, you’re secluded and not in the city so it has a good college feel.”
Coming from a program that is on the rise, Jefferson is 15-5 over the past two seasons, Ashburn is going to another program that is rolling.
Mercyhurst went 9-2 last season and much like Falcons, “They’re definitely on the rise,” he said.
Being part of a Jefferson program that seems to have turned the corner of success was a great experience for the talented receiver.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “Having two winning seasons like that, turning it around for the long run, hopefully next year’s team can continue the success. It’ll be great to look back and say we’re the ones that started the tradition.”
While he’s expected to play receiver at the next level, Ashburn is no slouch on the opposite side of the ball.
He was named the 2012 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Defensive Back of the Year.
“I’m recruited at wide reciever, but they especially took note that I played defense,” he said. “They said my defense will give me a better chance at getting on the field and playing special teams as a freshman.”
Ashburn said it was fun planning not just for a team that won, the Falcons went 8-2 this past season, but also playing with a talented group of receivers.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “Tony did a great job putting the ball in the receivers’ hands and letting us run. We (the recievers) all had a lot of different playing styles. It always depends on the week, but someone would show up every week and that was huge for us.”
Ashburn will be making a slight adjustment in offenses as he goes from the spread that Jefferson ran to the pro-style offense of the Lakers, but he isn’t concerned about the change.
“They do run more of a pro style, they like to do a lot of play action and air it out, which I like,” he said. “It’ll be a little bit different but I’m willing to do whatever to get on the field.”
The receiver said part of his decision was based on the fact that his grandparents Dianne and Bruce Ashburn, who he lives with, will be able to come watch him play.
“They were really open to doing what was best for me and wanted me to go where I was going to be happy,” he said. “My grandpa loves watching me and that was a big factor in my decision. He’ll be able to make it to all the home games.”
In a season with so many memories, Ashburn said it was tough to pinpoint just one game that he’ll look back on as his favorite.
But, two come to mind.
In a 43-20 win over Newton Falls, Ashburn touched the ball just twice, and scored both times. Once, on a 62-yard bomb from Chiacchiero and the second time, on an 85-yard kickoff return for a score.
The second game that sticks out was the defining game of the Jefferson season, a 24-21 win over Lakeview.
Ashburn reached the end zone twice, on receptions of 12 and 45 yards, the latter the touchdown that sealed the victory. All told, he racked up 148 yards on six receptions and picked off a pass.
“The homecoming game against Newton Falls was great, I touched the ball twice and scored twice,” he said. “But, that’s kind of minor compared to Lakeview. That was the best game of my life.
“It was just a night where everything that could’ve gone right when right for me.”
For Ashburn, the success of Jefferson during his junior season when it went 7-3, made him raise his playing level heading into his senior year.
“As a junior, I saw what I could do next year to help the team like the seniors did that year,” he said. “It really gave me goals to strive for. Making the playoffs was obviously our main goal, but we felt like we hopefully set an example for the teams to come after us.”
Ashburn credited Falcons head coach Jimmy Henson and assistant coach Rob Mead for much of his success.
“I spent a lot of time with Coach Mead in the offseason in the weight room,” he said. “He was a big part in the offseason. When it came to inseason, Coach Henson was a great help. He played safety in college and was a great safety coach for me.
“He kind of changed this year, too. He was open to new ideas and he listened and it helped in the passing game.”
Now, the future Laker will focus on getting stronger and faster, although he said his recruiters told him they were happy with his size and don’t want him to lose any speed.
But, before he heads to Mercyhurst, Ashburn has unfinished business on the baseball diamond — something he’s looking forward to.
“Baseball is great, I really love the spring time,” he said. “Baseball is one of my favorite things, even though football is obviously No. 1.
“I’ll miss playing.”