While Clarke football readies for what it hopes will be a year of steps taken over the threshold of excellence, five members of the Indian football family recently spent time down under.
Down Under, Brisbane in Queensland, Australia that is.
Clarke football coach Duane Matthess and assistant Jeff Beener led the expedition that featured recently-graduated Nick McVey and rising Clarke seniors Riley Domina and Taven Floyd.
A trip that began on June 24 culminated with the Indians returning on July 3 as a more culturally-sound and experienced group who had a larger grasp and understanding of the world around them.
The Down Under Sports football program represented an opportunity that was hard to pass up.
The process that began late last fall to fundraise several thousand dollars for the trip, was greatly encouraged by Matthess, who made the trip as a high school football player.
Clarke’s athletes that made the trip already seem to have embraced the significance of their journey.
“It’s got my mindset a little more changed,” Floyd said. “I think on a bigger picture. Not just individual spots. It has given me a chance to see how teams interact and keep in mind other (people).”
Several practices led into two games for the Clarke players.
For Domina, he noticed how Australian players tackled differently. While American football players were likely to aggressively attack the play and use their whole body to bring down a ball-carrier, the Australians were more inclined to gang-tackling as a unit.
He picked up on how players from Australia and New Zealand worked out disagreements and tried to come to resolutions in a different manner than he was accustomed to.
For a reason
It was obvious to both players and Clarke’s coaches who wanted to be in Australia to prove something and who was there more for the sightseeing and the cultural experience.
“You could kind of tell who wanted to be there and who was there to look at scenery,” Domina said.
Many just wanted to improve.
“You had a different group of guys that didn’t necessarily … grow up playing football, but they all still loved the sport passionately,” Domina said.
When it came to the gameplay, each Domina, Floyd and McVey all played for the “Kangaroos” squad. The team included players from the likes of North Dakota, South Dakota, New York, Utah and even other Iowans.
Both Domina and Floyd played some linebacker. Domina jumped in from time to time at wide receiver and Floyd worked on the offensive line.
McVey worked on the line on both sides of the ball.
Matthess, who helped coach and chaperone, as did Beener, was curious to see how his Indian athletes would approach the trip. Would they take it seriously? Would they be intimidated?
“We faced some really good competition. But I thought at some point during those two games, all three of those guys stood out and made an impact,” Matthess said.
“... There were some kids that were there to experience a different part of the world and have a little fun for 10 days, but I didn’t really see that from any of the Iowa kids that were there.”
Domina, used to playing defensive back and Floyd, used to playing the defensive line, both took advantage of their time in unfamiliar positions.
“We were a much more sound tackling team when he (Domina) was in there,” Matthess said.
“He wasn’t the biggest, certainly not the strongest or heaviest. He’s just so sound fundamentally. If he hits you … you hardly see a broken tackle from him.”
Finally, to see McVey fly around the field and perform after having his senior season cut short just several plays into the fall season, Matthess was filled with pride and awe at the way the recent Clarke graduate finished up his time on the gridiron.
“For him to be able to go out there, put on the pads and strap on a helmet another time and not have any lingering issues and go out and play at a high level, it was really satisfying for me to see that,” Matthess said. “... He had a big smile on his face and I think we shared that smile.”
While there, the Clarke gridiron crew established their fair share of relationships. Domina became close to Nodaway Valley athlete Austin Wilson, who the Indians will host in a week two matchup in the team’s first game on its new field turf.
Domina and Wilson even placed a wager on who would pile up more tackles in the two team’s matchups and who would end up with more at the end of the season.
“I already know I’m going to beat him. So he already knows he’s going to owe me a steak dinner,” Domina said with a chuckle.
Other time spent in Brisbane included trips to a wildlife sanctuary, eating at a diverse array of restaurants (Korean Barbeque, Filipino dishes and seafood pizza to name a few) and trips taken to the local malls.
The players witnessed and even attempted to learn part of a cultural ritual called the “Haka,” that can be part war cry or a collective challenge in the form of a displayed dance. While it’s meant to intimidate, Domina and Floyd noted coming away impressed with the display.
“I got to see a lot more of the world. Got to meet different people culturally and background-wise,” Domina said.
“Got to try a lot of different things there. It’s a melting pot basically,” Floyd said.
Watching his players take in the experience and not take it for granted was something Matthess got to reminisce on afterward.
“As a former player on that trip myself, seeing it from a totally different aspect as a coach is really neat,” Matthess said. “If any of our players have a chance to go on that trip again, I highly, highly encourage it.”