The Clarke football team has seen its fair share of bad luck since last season ended.
The streak of bad luck began when all-state receiver Dylan Diveney moved to Marshalltown. It continued when fullback and linebacker Skylar Lane moved to Missouri, then returned to Osceola, but is not able to play for the Indians this fall.
Then Jeremy Jones, a two-way starter last year as a freshman, moved to Indiana. And to cap it all off, all-district linebacker Jacob Bair suffered a torn ACL and will miss his entire senior season.
Add to those losses the loss of the versatile Logan Weers and offensive and defensive line players Javier Montoya and Tyler Lewis, who graduated.
“A big string of bad luck for us, I would say,” Clarke head coach Michael Kline said. “But the optimist in me looks at it as God is setting us up to do big things this year. The Army always talks about breaking people down before building them back up, so I believe, and I have great faith in my Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that something big is going to happen for us this year. We just have to have faith, keep working hard daily and improve.”
Reason for hope
Senior quarterback Dalton Sweeney got off to a good start last year, leading the Indians to wins in their first three games.
That’s when bad luck befell the Indians once again, as Sweeney missed much of the remaining seven games with Mononucleosis.
But, Sweeney returns to the Indians this year healthy, bring experience and stability to the quarterback position.
“Hopefully Dalton doesn’t get mono this year at quarterback, and we can have him play all 10 games this year,” Kline said. “We still have Rich (Wilkins) as a backup, so that’s a good thing that both our quarterbacks coming back have experience.”
Junior Gordon Witt is another player who has Kline excited this year. Witt, along with Bair, tied for the team lead in tackles last season with 80 total tackles. Kline hopes to work Witt into the offense more this season.
“Gordon Witt is a kid for us who played a lot of defense last year, and hopefully we can find a spot for him offensively,” Kline said. “He started at cornerback and we moved him to some safety (last year). This year at practice, we’ve put him at linebacker and defensive end. I think he’s our best tackler. At 6-1, 170 you’d like to have a kid with a little more weight to bring to tackling, but Gordon’s not afraid of anybody and will certainly go hard.
“Like I said, hopefully he can fill in a little offensively at wide receiver for us,” Kline continued. “Him being a high jumper, too, hopefully he can go up and catch some footballs for us like Dylan did last year.”
This year’s Clarke offense will revolve around the running game more than it did last year.
Doing the running for the Indians could be any one of a number of different backs.
“My high school football coach Ed Morrissey always told me you find your horse and you ride them,” Kline said. “We don’t know who our horse is yet this year. I think Dalton coming back as quarterback is going to give us great stability there. Running the ball from the quarterback position can be difficult at times.
“We’re running a lot of different guys at practice,” he continued. “Junior Morales, Dustan Van Loon is playing some. Brandyne Olin, Jake Leeps, Gunner Sergeant-Elben, Kadn McNichols, Jared Coe, Dayne Ruth. I could go on and on. We’ve got a lot of guys who are playing running back this year. We’re trying to find a horse we can ride.”
For now, it will be running back by committee for the Indians.
“Running back by committee is a good description right now,” Kline said. “We need a big committee room, too. We’ve got a lot of them.”
The play of the offensive line will be one of the biggest keys for the Indians this year.
Blocking and tackling were two areas Kline felt his team lacked solid play last year, and it cost the Indians.
Senior Drew Wishon will anchor the Clarke line from the right tackle position. Also playing a key role on the offensive line this year is one of the biggest success stories from summer strength and conditioning in Damon Helgevold, Kline said.
“He’ll be our center this year,” Kline said. “He started out at center last year and we moved him to some guard and tackle. We’ve got him back at center. He worked a ton on speed lateral in the offseason, working on quicker feet and he’s done a nice job for us there. Some guys did a really good job in the weight room in the offseason and over the summer, and he’s improved his bench and squat max quite a bit.”
The Indians will still feature a plethora of young players seeing game action this season.
But, Kline says, that’s not all bad.
“It’s OK being young, because those sophomores are eventually going to become juniors and those juniors are going to be seniors,” he said. “They’ll get older. You just can’t have bad luck every year.”
And with all the bad luck the Indians have had over the past year, sooner or later, it will have to turn around and luck will be on Clarke’s side.
The Indians open the season 7 p.m. Friday at home against Clarinda Academy.