No more spring practices, no more summer training camp. The fall season is just around the corner, and that means the football feeling is back in central Pennsylvania.
The locals are ready to don their red and black on Friday nights to support their sons that strap on the pads, and the coaches who put on the headsets. The Clearfield Bison are ready to hit the turf, especially when they take to the field for 2018 with a wealth of experience, something that a season ago was not the case.
Despite having a lot of playing experience, the Bison finished the 2017 season with only six seniors on squad, a team that head coach Tim Janocko admitted was possibly the youngest he’s ever had during his tenure. But, behind those seniors was a wealth of playing experience, and many young players looking for an opportunity to impress. At season’s end, despite the youth that many thought would hurt the team, the Bison finished the year with a surprising 6-5 record, and made the playoffs.
The youth factor is not the case this season, as the Bison have 15 seniors on the squad, and each one is a returning letter winner from last season. Overall, Clearfield returns 20 letter winners from last season, and over half come back with starting experience.
Leading the charge on the offensive side for Clearfield, a three-year starter, is senior quarterback Isaac Rumery, who has shown that with experience comes success.
As a sophomore, no one knew how he would do at the helm, as he was the successor to Christian Lezzer following a pair of undefeated seasons.
When his first year came to a close, he finished with over 1900 yards passing, a 94.8 quarterback rating, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. One year later, with a younger team but more experience as an offensive leader, his stats improved immensely.
His 2017 season saw him throw for 2643 yards in 11 games, completing just under 62 percent of his passes, and 33 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.
Rumery did not carry the ball as much last season as he did in 2016, 96 carries compared to 128, and for less yardage, 359 versus 575, but he doubled up his rushing touchdowns as he accounted for eight last year against four in 2016. An all-around threat from the read-option style of play for Janocko, he once again is the focus of the offense.
This year Rumery has not only a more experienced offensive line to protect him, but also an extremely seasoned backfield and receiving group to help bring Clearfield back to the top of the Mountain League.
In the backfield, however, there is some mystery in the depth chart, as in mystery in the success of the ground game.
Last year’s leading rusher, Ty Bender, is not suiting up for 2018. His season ended with 773 yards on the ground, helping establish the run to allow Rumery to have the success he experienced in the passing game.
This year, it looks to be Brett Zattoni that steps in and becomes the featured back to carry the load for Clearfield.
Zattoni competed in 10 of the team’s 11 games a season ago, accounting for 486 yards and three scores. Now in his junior year, he will take to the field in every game as the starter. He showcased a lot of talent last season when he shared time with Bender, and now as the first man flanking beside Rumery, there is no telling what he can accomplish.
On the outside, seniors Taye Lynch and Spencer Graham are going to be key in the receiving game.
Graham’s junior season finished with 26 receptions for 377 yards, including six touchdowns. Lynch returns as the leading receiver on the team, catching 30 passes in 2017 for 601 yards, and a team-high seven touchdowns. Both receivers are capable of filling the void left by Micah Heichel, who accounted for 819 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his senior year.
But, possibly the one player in the receiving corps that is the most overlooked in this is actually Lezzer, who saw a lot of playing time a season ago as a sophomore.
In a sense, Lezzer is the Bison equivalent to Penn State’s Tommy Stevens, because he can play in many aspects of the offense. He’s been in the backfield as a running back to be a decoy for Bender, and can run the ball from the slot if necessary. His best statistics came as a receiver, however, and that will be in all likelihood his primary job this year. Coming off a 29-catch season, including four touchdowns, Lezzer is ready to break out in his junior year and become a big part of the offense.
In order to have those offensive statistics stand out, the Bison defense will need to be just as strong, and the Bison have a wealth of experience on defense in order to do that.
At linebacker, Ryan Lazauskas is coming off a solid year with 57 tackles, third on the team behind Eli Glass (98) and Graham (89). He finished 2017 tied for team-high sacks with defensive tackles Noah Johnson and Avry Gisewhite, along with the graduated Luke McGonigal with five.
Gisewhite, Lazauskas and Johnson will bring the heat when it comes to the defensive front and backfield, while on the outside, Lynch, Graham and Lezzer all will have to play their hearts out in the secondary to force some broken passes and interceptions, something the Bison did not have much of a season ago.
In total, the turnover ratio was not in Clearfield’s favor, finishing with 10 total takeaways on the season. Turnovers could ultimately be what makes a difference in the 2018 campaign.
Clearfield overall wants to experience a better season in the Mountain League than they did in 2017, suffering early losses to Central and Huntingdon, plus a heartbreak against Bald Eagle late in the year. Their two worst performances came against the same team, Bellefonte, as they lost both the regular season and first-round playoff games by a combined score of 117-49, with many of those points from Clearfield coming after Bellefonte’s first-team offense took to the sideline after the Mercy Rule was in effect.
Janocko is not one to say that one game is going to be a bigger challenge than the others, as each year he’s consistently said that each game matters. But, the Bison will have to improve on their 4-4 record in the league for this year if they want to bring back the championship to Clearfield.
That campaign will begin on Friday, but will begin away from the Bison Sports Complex. The 2018 season for Clearfield begins on the road at E.J. Mansell Stadium against the DuBois Beavers. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
2018 Clearfield Bison Roster
Returning letter winners in bold
SENIORS: Barrett Kline, Jonathon Thomas, Caleb Freeland, Eli Glass, Isaac Rumery, Jude Pallo, Taye Lynch, Noah Johnson, Ryan Lazauskas, Chris Fenton, Logan Stover, Avry Gisewhite, Logan Munshower, Spencer Graham
JUNIORS: Brett Zattoni, Zach Hess, Trevor Wain, Alan Myers, Syrus Mandel, Ian Heitsenrether, Alex Owens, Seth Miller, Quentin Bloom, Garrett Becker
SOPHOMORES: Jake Lezzer, Justin Hand, Ian Billotte, Nick Domico, Logan Firanski, Nick Cowder, Jason Plubell, Matt Pallo, Levi Wisor, Riley Hassinger, Zane Inguagiato, Gavin Mills, Cameron Conklin, Matt Bailor
FRESHMEN: Oliver Billotte, Mark McGonigal
2018 Clearfield Bison Schedule
*Mountain League Game
All games are 7 p.m. start unless otherwise noted.
- 24: at Dubois
- 31: at Penns Valley*
- 7: CENTRAL*
- 14: at Huntingdon*
- 21: CENTRAL MOUNTAIN*
- 28: BELLEFONTE*, Homecoming
- 5: at Tyrone*
- 12: at Bald Eagle Area*
- 19: PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA*
- 26: BISHOP CARROLL, Senior Night