HYDE — Despite the fact that the calendar still proclaims it to be summer for another month, the “Boys of Fall” have already been hard at work preparing for the upcoming season. However, the season starts quicker than ever, meaning summer workouts and time in the weight room, the film room, and the practice field is shortened.
Already, even before some schools are set to begin their calendar year for students, the lights of the football field will be lit up for Friday night action once again.
That means the Clearfield Bison are back to work, and looking to continue their reign atop the Mountain League.
Head coach Tim Janocko and his staff have been working since June to get the 2017 edition of the Bison game ready, and in doing so this year’s team has one mission: achieve seven. That is achieve a seventh consecutive Mountain League championship.
To do so, Janocko and staff must do so with what is possibly the most youthful team the famed coach has ever overseen in all his years on the sidelines. This year’s Bison team has 39 players ready for the season-opener, however just six members of the team are seniors. A lot of the 2016 squad graduated, leaving many voids needing filled somehow entering this season.
But, the Bison coaches know they have the talent, because this team also has experience on the field in both game experience and team leadership.
After a season where the Bison finished the season 10-2, and undefeated in the Mountain League, trying to follow up the success with such youth is a challenge. But, this team is willing to give it everything it has, and leave it all on the field when the clock reads all zeroes.
Here’s a breakdown of who to keep an eye on from each side of the ball, and who could be a breakout player for this year’s season:
Clearfield has one major advantage when they step onto the field with the ball in 2017: an experienced quarterback. Entering last year’s season opener, the team decided to rely on a sophomore who had not seen a lot of time under center, mainly due to the experience and ability of then-quarterbacks Christian Lezzer and Cody Spaid. So, he waited for his chance, but entered last year with no starting experience and being thrust into the role of lead signal caller.
What happened is that Isaac Rumery had a strong opening night, and got even better as the season progressed.
By the season’s end, the young quarterback nearly hit 2000 yards passing, completing over 50 percent of his passes, threw 19 touchdowns compared to only 11 interceptions. He also proved to be versatile with his legs, rushing for 575 yards on the season and four touchdowns.
What is going to be a bit of a challenge for Rumery this season is he will be adjusting to a completely new offensive line.
Clearfield boasts depth at the offensive line position. Returning this year to the offensive line is Ryan Lazauskas and Noah Johnson, both letter winners from last season. These two will lead the way in protecting Rumery from sacks and being rushed into passes, while also creating holes for the running game to gain extra yardage.
The running game is the place where the biggest hole will need to be filled. Clearfield saw its second-leading rusher of all time, Seth Caldwell, graduate after a spectacular senior season of 1299 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. His final statistics as a Bison were 4439 yards on the ground on 806 carries, an average of 5.5 yards each time he touched the ball, 52 total touchdowns, with 46 coming on the ground.
How can one replace a player that special?
Clearfield is needing to figure out who is taking the bulk of the hand-offs this season, which currently appears to be junior Ty Bender. In his limited time playing last season, he rushed for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But, those statistics are likely going up this year with his game experience.
One area that Clearfield is not worried about is the receiving group, because despite losing Ryan Lezzer to graduation last year, their leading receiver returns for one final season. Micah Heichel brought in nearly half of Rumery’s passing yards with 889 and nine touchdowns.
Add in the additions of Taye Lynch, Luke McGonigal and Spencer Graham, all with game experience, and Rumery should feel right at home right when the season begins.
The Bison defense one year ago could do no wrong on any given Friday night. But, in doing so they also now must replace their backbone, their leader, and the top defender of a season ago.
Matt Collins finished his senior season at linebacker with 178 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, a pair of fumble recoveries, and an interception.
A player like that is impossible to find again, and is an even bigger challenge to replace.
What will need to be done is many returning players need to fill the void. Heichel returns as the lead tackler from last season, finishing 2016 with 68 to his credit. Heichel is likely the one
But, players like Lynch, sophomore Eli Glass, juniors Graham, Logan Stover, plus seniors Luke McGonigal and Zack Horton will be relied upon to carry the load on the front line for the Bison to keep the opposing offense from scoring.
The secondary for the Bison is returning three players with nearly a season of experience with Lynch, Graham, and Glass, all of whom contributed at least one interception on the season.
Compared to the offense, the defense has a lot of in-game experience, meaning the learning curve heading into the season opener is easier in defending the home turf, and that is critical with such little time to prepare for the start of the 2017 season versus last year.
The Bison team, and the surrounding community, are ready to pull out their black and red attire for a new year of competition on the field, and it all begins this Friday night.
Clearfield’s first opposition will be the team they faced a season ago, the DuBois Beavers, in a game where they lost 30-20, but competed right up until the final whistle.
Kickoff for the new season is at 7 p.m. at the Bison Sports Complex.
2017 Clearfield Bison Roster
Players in BOLD-Returning Letterwinners
SENIOR: Dylan Wilt, Micah Heichel, Jake Sorbera, Luke McGonigal, Zack Horton, Jake Robison
JUNIOR: Barrett Kline, John Thomas, Eli Glass, Spencer Graham, Isaac Rumery, Jude Pallo, Taye Lynch, Ty Bender, Caleb Freeland, Noah Johnson, Ryan Lazauskas, Chris Fenton, Logan Stover, Avry Gisewhite, Kevin Helsel, Logan Munshower
SOPHOMORE: Brett Zattoni, Chantz Pelton, Zach Hess, Trevor Wain, Allan Myers, Darin Billotte, Zane Inguagiato, Ian Heitsenrether, Alex Owens, Seth Miller, Garrett Becker, Matt Wisor, Eric Griffith
FRESHMEN: Jake Lezzer, Hunter Stiner, Curvey Purkett, Nick Domico
2017 Clearfield Bison Schedule
All games set for 7 p.m. unless noted
- 8/25: DUBOIS
- 9/1: PENNS VALLEY
- 9/8: @ Central High
- 9/15: HUNTINGDON
- 9/22: @ Central Mountain
- 9/29: @ Bellefonte
- 10/6: TYRONE
- 10/13: BALD EAGLE
- 10/20: @ Philipsburg-Osceola*
- 10/27: @ Karns City
*The “Big Teams” website currently lists the game against Philipsburg as being played at the old venue, Memorial Field, across from the YMCA, rather than at the new multipurpose field at the P-O Area Senior High School. Once a definitive venue is announced, this will be updated.