The early morning workouts, all the time in the weight room, every practice held in the blistering and smoldering heat of summer, and every moment spent studying film have prepared the newest edition of the Clearfield Bison football team. It all started back shortly after the previous school year came to an end.
Now, months of preparation, training, and studying gets put to the test.
Head coach Tim Janocko and his entire coaching staff know that when it’s a new year, there’s new expectations. Whatever happened the previous year doesn’t matter, it’s done. The time to make new memories begins now, and those memories start by putting how the previous season ended.
It was not an unsuccessful season by any stretch for the Bison in 2015. That season saw a final record of 9-2, including a record fifth consecutive District IX championship in Class AAA. At the same time, the season ended sooner than any Bison player, coach, parent or fan expected. After dropping the first game of the season against Fort Hill, who traveled from Cumberland, Maryland, to give a challenge for Clearfield, the Bison rattled off eight-consecutive victories, including a decisive 56-6 triumph to capture the title.
One week later, when the PIAA playoffs began, they were dealt a blow that still seems to sting, especially to the senior class. After building up a lead in the first half, the Johnstown Trojans fought back to tie the game and send it into overtime. On what was to be a fourth-down field goal attempt, a muffed snap suddenly became the play of the game when the fumble recovery turned into the game-winning touchdown for the visitors, ending the Bison’s season with a 20-14 stunner in front of the home crowd.
That game is now in the past, and a new year awaits. The biggest asset to the Bison for the 2016 season is senior leadership.
It all starts out front because the senior class makes up a strong bit of the offensive line, having worked together for the last three seasons. Matt Collins, Jonathan Maines, and Dylan Fenton all return to help protect their quarterback.
What is different this year is the man who is calling the plays under center. It is hard to replace someone like Cody Spaid, who literally stood head and shoulders above his teammates and the opposition. His senior season saw him throw for over 1300 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only toss five interceptions.
Tasked to take over the role is sophomore Isaac Rumery, who did get some experience calling the plays last season when Spaid’s time in the game ended and the second-team offense took the field.
He will have the senior leadership on the line to protect him, but more importantly in the backfield he has another senior that for the last three years has been outstanding when the ball is tucked in his arm.
Seth Caldwell broke onto the scene as a running back for the Bison during the 2013 season, rushing for 800 yards but more importantly showcasing his quick feet. Janocko was eager to get the young man some more time on the field, and it has grown since then. Caldwell has ran for over 3100 yards in his career thus far for Clearfield, including 1345 last year, and 27 touchdowns. In 11 games last year, Caldwell eclipsed the century mark for yards on the ground.
He will be critical for the team this year, but running the ball every play is not an option. Luckily for Rumery, he has plenty of weapons on the outside to get the ball to.
Ryan Lezzer returns for his final season as the lead receiver from a year ago. He may wear the number four, the same one his brother wore during his time as a Bison, but last season his number was five. To finish his junior year, he had 555 yards receiving and five touchdowns.
Along with Lezzer, Steven Sawyer returns as the second-leading receiver on the team.
What could be a little overlooked right now for this team is actually something that Janocko prides himself in having each season: kicking and punting. Last year, Jake Sorbera started the season as the kicker for the Bison, but an early injury put him back and prevented him from taking the field except for on kickoffs. This year, the senior class has two kickers that will see duty in kicking, punting, and extra-point or field goal attempts.
When Sorbera went down, Josh Serena was pulled up to take over and he did so with excellent results. He would go 47-for-49 in extra points, with his lone two misses being blocked.
Alongside Serena this year, Peyton Priester is sharing duties but is untested. However, with kicking becoming so critical in some games over the last couple years, both are going to see a lot of time on the field, especially considering how potent the Bison offense has been. Averaging 367 yards per game last season, the Bison offense is looking to continue that trend of big numbers, big points, and high scores all season long.
Although there is a lot of senior leadership on the squad, plus a junior class that has playing experience, the youth that is coming up for the Bison is outstanding. Of the 43-player roster, nearly half make up the sophomore and freshman class.
These young players likely will get a lot of opportunities to show what they can do under the Friday night lights. Players like wide out Barrett Kline, Tae Lynch and Jon Thomas, tight end Ryan Lazauskas, and running back Eli Glass all should see some playing time this season at some point. With over half of the offensive line graduating this season, it’s likely that sophomore linemen Noah Johnson, Alex Daub and even freshman Allan Myers will get the chance to play.
What will be most important for the Bison to have a strong season is to get off to a positive start immediately on the year, which the last couple seasons have been a struggle. In season-opening games, the Bison are 0-2 in the last two years, losing to Keyser, West Virginia, in 2014 and Fort Hill a year ago.
This year’s season-opening game is a familiar foe, because normally these two squads will spend a Friday night in a scrimmage to test the waters. This year, however, Clearfield and Dubois will lace up the cleats and take to the field at E.J. Mansel Stadium for a true game, the first time the two squads have faced one another since 2009. Dubois won the last two contests, 35-28 in 2008 and 35-21 the following season.
The new season kicks off this Friday night at 7 p.m.
2016 CLEARFIELD BISON ROSTER
*Players in bold denote returning lettermen
SENIORS: Brock Bowman, Hunter Bumbarger, Seth Caldwell, Matt Collins, Dylan Fenton, Cody Gomola, Ryan Lezzer, Jonathan Maines, Richard Massimino, Chris O’Shea, Peyton Priester, Mason Royer, Steve Sawyer, Josh Serena, River Stone.
JUNIORS: Micah Heichel, Zach Horton, Luke McGonigal, Jacob Robinson, Isiah Sopic, Dylan Wilt.
SOPHOMORES: Ty Bender, Alex Daub, Chris Fenton, Avry Gisewhite, Eli Glass, Spencer Graham, Kevin Helsel, Hunter Hipps, Noah Johnson, Barrett Kline, Ryan Lazauskas, Tae Lynch, Logan Munshower, Tyler O’Shea, Jude Pallo, Isaac Rumery, Logan Stover, Jon Thomas.
FRESHMEN: Allan Myers, Caullin Reed, Brett Zattoni.
2016 Clearfield Bison Schedule
*All games played Friday evenings, kickoff at 7 p.m., unless otherwise noted.
- 26: at DuBois
- 2: at Penns Valley
- 9: CENTRAL
- 16: at Huntingdon
- 23: CENTRAL MOUNTAIN
- 30: BELLEFONTE
- 7: at Tyrone
- 14: at Bald Eagle
- 21: PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA
- 28: KARNS CITY
- 4 or 5: Class 5-6-9 Subregional Playoffs