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Ironton’s Nathan Kerns returns to state tournament

There are golf stickers on the cars. The stone bearing the family name is etched with a golf logo. There are golf bags, clubs and awards decorating the living room.

“We live in a golf house,” said Jeff Kerns, the Ironton Fighting Tigers golf coach.

With golf as the family backdrop, it is no wonder Ironton senior Nathan Kerns can swing a club well enough to make trips to the state golf tournament almost an annual affair.

Nathan Kerns is headed back to the Ohio State University for the third time in his four-year career and it is of no surprise to his father and coach.

“If I’m honest, he’s the most talented player I’ve ever coached,” said Jeff Kerns who also played in the state tournament during his high school career at Ironton. “I’ve tried to take the same approach with him as all my players. I try to find out what their abilities are. With him being my son, I know what he’s capable of more than the others.”

Nathan was part of the Ironton team to qualify for the state tournament as a freshman. After an off-season as a sophomore, he returned as an individual last year and repeated the accomplishment this year.

However, he had fully expected the team would be making the trip with him this time around.

“I wanted to make my senior year as successful as possible. I wanted to go as team, so going as an individual is bittersweet. But I’m still going to the state. I still have a chance,” said Nathan.

Last year, Nathan was 14th out of 72 golfers in the Division II state tournament. Ironton was fourth as a team in the district tournament two weeks ago, but Nathan had the low score for individuals to qualify for the state.

“I’m going with the same mind set. I’m just going into it trying to win it. There’s no pressure. All the hard work is done,” said Kerns.

“There’s no getting to the next level. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

This trip will mark the third different course for Kerns. He played at Foxfire as a freshman, the Ohio State Gray Course last year, and he plays the Scarlet Course this Friday and Saturday. He plays a practice round on Thursday.

“Practice rounds are huge, especially on a course like this,” said coach Kerns.

Nathan, the Coaches Association District Player of the Year last season, helped lead Ironton to an 83-30 record this season that including a sectional championship and the school’s first Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship.

While the team set a lot of goals, he said the state tournament has been the most gratifying.

“When I started high school, I went to the state and I didn’t expect to go. My most valuable experience is being at the state three out of four years. And not only getting there, but competing with some of the best players in Ohio,” said Nathan.

Playing in the state tournament is a reward for all the work and accomplishments Nathan had during the regular season. He knew his play and leadership would be crucial for the team filled with freshmen and sophomores.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself all year. But I heard from some wise guys (the coaches) that this is only the beginning,” said Nathan with a grin.

Although there were some difficult moments, Nathan was glad to be coached by his father.

“There were hard times, but for the most part it’s been fun. It’ll be tough to leave. He probably knows my game better than I do. It’s not been the easiest time. Sometimes it gets easy, and other times it’s not,” said Nathan.

Dad echoed those sentiments.

“Sometimes the rides home in the truck were interesting,” said Jeff Kerns. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change one thing. I love watching him compete. After a couple of years, I had taught him all I could. His abilities will take him father than I ever did.”

While coaching his son has been a privilege, coach Kerns also tipped his hat to assistant coaches Tony Brown and Justin Gillum.

“I have a lot of great help. Justin and Tony have been such a big help. You can’t coach a golf team yourself. It’s impossible. They’ve been a big influence in Nate’s life. They put in a lot of time,” said Jeff Kerns.

College is certainly in Nathan’s future, but the focus right now is this weekend.

“We’re focused on getting the state tournament out of the way, then we’ll look to college. We have plenty of time,” said coach Kerns.