HYDE — The fall air is nearly here, and that means the gridiron is ready to have cleats, helmets, and celebrations once again. The jerseys, pads, and footballs are back out, and that means another season the Bison Sports Complex will let their Clearfield Bison roam in a quest for glory.
That quest comes after a season of record performances, a pair of titles, and yet another unblemished regular season.
Head Coach Tim Janocko has his entire focus this year on the task at hand, not that he never did in all his years past. But, prior to the new season, he decided it was time to step away and retire as the principal of the Junior-Senior High School, a tough decision, but one he felt was right. However, him stepping away from coaching was not even a thought, and after a 12-1 season in 2018 that saw both a Mountain League championship plus a District IX title, he and his staff stayed true and focused on matching those goals for the new year.
In trying to do so, Janocko has a team that has a lot of experience, despite having a small senior class. The 2019 squad has 16 returning letter-winners from last year’s squad, seven of them in the senior class. However, that senior class is only eight players, but all have shown leadership and strong work ethic in their years of experience.
Let’s break down the Bison on both sides of the ball, and look at who will be the players to watch when the season begins.
The biggest question entering the new season is how can one replace the leader of the offense, one that put his name in the record books for Clearfield. In his time that he was given the reins as quarterback, Isaac Rumery put his stamp on the all-time passing record by finishing his career with 7,135 yards through the air. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was incredible, 78 scores against just 28 picks. Add in 27 rushing touchdowns, and it’s no wonder Rumery was looking to join the Nittany Lions as a walk-on for his first year at college.
How, more importantly who, can replace that?
The answer is a 6’4″ sophomore who played in 12 of the 13 games a year ago to get some experience, including taking over for Rumery the entire second half in their last game of the year when Rumery went down to injury. Taking over as signal-caller for the Bison in 2019 is Oliver Billotte, a talent that the coaches have seen be very impressive in his limited playing time last year but also has shown he’s prepared to make this his team.
The advantage for Billotte is that he’s going to be surrounded by a lot of experience on the offensive line, in the backfield, and at receiver. In the backfield, Brett Zattoni returns for his final season in the black and red, ready to add onto his leading performance from a year ago. Zattoni rushed for over 1000 yards on the season, averaging just over six yards per carry as the workhorse back that he was, and added in 13 touchdowns, tied for second on the team a year ago with Rumery and behind only the now-graduated Caleb Freeland.
When it comes to the receiving group, they have leadership on the field, and on the sidelines. Jake Lezzer is the leading receiver returning to the team in 2019, as the graduating class from last year saw the #2 and #3 receivers move onto bigger things. Lezzer led the team in receiving with 1036 yards, and finished second in receiving touchdowns with nine, just behind Taye Lynch who hauled in 12.
Clearfield’s receiving corps also includes Ian Billotte and Nick Domico, who each should see a lot more playing time this year. But, the biggest addition to the Bison receivers this season is not on the field, but on the sidelines, as former Bison quarterback and receiver Christian Lezzer, the older brother of Jake, has come on as assistant receivers coach. The former player for Boston College and Central Florida is already looking forward to being back home, as the smile showed when the team was introduced last week.
The offensive line has a lot of experience this year, as a majority of them were starting as sophomores a season ago and now have come together again to protect Billotte. In addition to the experience on the field, former offensive lineman Dylan Fenton has come on as an assistant coach for the line this season.
Overall, despite the small senior class that the Bison field for the offense, the squad has experience on the field, and trust in each other. That will make a major difference when it comes time to show what they can do on the field.
An offense is only good when the defense provides the opportunity to showcase their talent. This year’s defense also brings back a lot of experience, and replacing many of the graduating seniors will not be as hard a challenge. Although taking over at quarterback, Oliver Billotte led the team in tackles a season ago with 62, plus 2.5 sacks.
But, replacing guys like Lynch, Eli Glass, Rumery and others will be the challenge as all their experience in making the defensive calls is now gone. However, Domico, Lezzer, and Zattoni will be taking up many of those spots on the defense as they already have their in-game experience. Guys like Alan Myers, Ian Heitsenrether, Trevor Wain, and others will also be tested early on.
The youth on the defense, specifically in the secondary, will be tested early with the caliber of teams on the schedule. As dominant as the Bison defense was in 2018, holding teams to just over 16 points per game, it’s uncertain if this year’s squad will match that. Of those 13 games, all but two saw the Bison defense hold the opposition to 21 points or less, with six of those games being a touchdown or less, and two back-to-back shutouts.
Just like every year, the Bison coaches want the defense to limit the time the opposition is on the field. This means many opportunities for the Bison offense to score, and the Bison defense feeling fresh and not cramping up.
As the old saying goes, offense win games, but defense wins championships, and that’s the goal for the Bison this season.
Clearfield is ready to take the field with this year’s squad, and the community, as always, is ready to show their support for the red and black once again. The time has come for the start of the season, as this week’s opening contest is against the Beavers of DuBois. A year ago, Clearfield went into E.J. Mansell Stadium and left with a 28-3 triumph that set the tone for their season.
This year’s campaign will officially start inside the Bison Sports Complex on Friday night, as kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
2019 ROSTER BY CLASS
Players in BOLD are returning letter winners.
SENIORS: Garrett Becker, Quentin Bloom, Ian Heitsenrether, Seth Miller, Alan Myers, Alex Owens, Trevor Wain, Brett Zattoni
JUNIORS: Matt Bailor, Ian Billotte, Matt Bush, Nick Cowder, Nick Domico, Logan Firanski, Graeson Graves, Zane Inguagiato, Jake Lezzer, Syrus Mandel, Gavin Mills, Matt Pallo, Jason Plubell, Curvey Purkett, Dravon Royer
SOPHOMORES: Jose Alban, Oliver Billotte, Shane Coudriet, Justin Crutchfield, Trenton Green, Caden Irwin, Karson Kline, Hayden Kovalick, Kaleb Lee, Mark McGonigal, Nathan Natoli, Max Paul-Cook, Josh Steele, Caleb Wilt
2019 Clearfield Bison Football Schedule
*All games are set for 7 p.m. kickoff unless otherwise noted.
30: PENNS VALLEY
6: @ Central-Martinsburg
20: @ Central Mountain
27: @ Bellefonte
11: BALD EAGLE AREA
18: @ Philipsburg-Osceola
25: @ Bishop Carroll