After losing 18 players from last year’s 2-A Eastern Championship squad, head coach Bob Lewis has his hands full finding players to plug into the holes created by graduation.
“We have a lot of potential, but we have to play up to that potential,” said Lewis, assessing his team’s prospects for the coming season.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Horses have to replace half the backfield, and four offensive linemen. Tyion Wright and Chris Williams are expected to step into the vacated backfield spots alongside returning starters Rayquan Faison and Ryheem Skinner.
Lewis said, “Tyion saw a good bit of action in the backfield last year, and played at defensive back, so he is ready to go. Chris Williams played quarterback for the JV last year, and he is ready to step in and help us right away.”
Up front on offense, there are a few more questions, without obvious answers. Jonathan Wright will return at tight end and Joel Jones is back at tackle, but the other four spots along the front are up for grabs.
“We have to have some young guys step up on the offensive line,” continued Lewis. “There are some good players there, just not a lot of game experience. They will have to learn quickly.”
The retooled offensive line will be critical to Clinton’s success as they will need to give the speedy backfield enough daylight to get into the opponents secondary on a regular basis.
The defense was hit equally hard by graduation, with only four players returning from last year’s squad. On the defensive line, Prentice Murphy returns to his end spot, where he started every game last year as a sophomore. While Murphy will hold down one end of the line, the rest of the spots are not as clear.
Coach Lewis added, “Prentice will be back at end on one side, and we are looking at Jonathan Wright on the other end. Jonathan Played a lot of linebacker last year so he can help us in a couple of spots. Like the offensive line, we need a hand full of young guys to step in and take those spots.”
Kavon Dessus and Tyion Wright return at defensive back and the two explosive speedsters will anchor the Dark Horse defensive backfield. The recurring theme of young players stepping in and filling vacated spots will be the case for the back seven. The biggest question early for the defense, like the offense, is can the talented, but inexperienced players get up to speed quickly enough to help stop opponents, and turn the ball back over to what should continue to be a very explosive offense.
The kicking game will continue to be a strength for Clinton with the return of sophomore placekicker Chandler Perry. Perry’s booming kickoffs will continue to give the Horses a chance to pin opponents in poor field position, and he proved to be very reliable on point after attempts. He was very good on short and medium range field goal attempts as well. Most likely, Perry will take over the punting duties for the departed Seth Harrington. While the Horses didn’t have to call on Harrington very often last season, when they did, he hit some crucial kicks pinning opponents deep in several key spots during the playoffs. Perry will have big shoes to fill, but is very capable.
If the Dark Horses can overcome their growing pains on both fronts and fill the voids created by graduation, they should be poised to make another deep playoff run. The skilled positions are stocked with speed and experience that should make the Clinton offense one of the most explosive in the region and the defense should continue to pack enough punch to make life miserable for opposing offenses. Reliable special teams play, anchored by a strong kicking game, should help keep the Dark Horses’ opponents in poor field position.
Head Coach Bob Lewis concluded, “The kids are ready to get started. They are talking a lot about finishing unfinished business. They just have to tap their potential and they can have a very good season.”