It was a 3-6 season for Duane Matthess and Clarke football in 2018, one of the most successful seasons that the nine outgoing seniors had in their four-year career.
With those playmaking and leading seniors gone, it’s next man up for Clarke as the 2019 season draws closer.
And for Matthess and the Indians, the transition is seamless.
“To be honest, I feel like we haven’t lost that much,” said Matthess. “(Injuries) forced us to play with our complete backfield that we pretty much have back this season.”
The words from Matthess ring true. Garrett Moore and Payton Winship missed part of the season due to injuries that gave them a combined 67 snaps behind the line of scrimmage. Their absence gave 2018 reserves at running back playing time that has made their transition into starting roles for the 2019 season easy.
The Indians return Chris Carson (358 yards, eight touchdowns), Amani Fry (7.0 yards per carry, 336 yards) and Fani Fry (184 yards rushing), but are without Riley Domina – the leading passer, rusher and tackler from the year prior.
The first team all-district football player and Division I track and field hopeful at Iowa State did it all, passing for 166 yards, rushing for 736 and posting 74 total tackles.
In a single wing offense that relies primarily on the run, missing a playmaker like Domina doesn’t have an effect on what the playbook will be for this season.
However, the lack of a clear cut one back gives Clarke a running back by committee entering Week 1.
“Our offense has not changed,” said Matthess. “We’re going to basically (do) what defense allow (us to do). It could be Chris Carson one week and the next week it could be Amani Fry or Brian Avalos or Zethann May. ... We really have an RBBC (running back by committee) kind of deal in regards to the offense.”
Matthess added that there isn’t a running back that will have a helping of 30-40 or possibly 20 rushing attempts in a game due to spreading the ball and giving plenty of touches to multiple runners.
On the defensive side of the ball some holes have not been as easy to fill, said Matthess. But through that, there are positives.
“The nice thing is that every player on defense played last year, or saw significant playing time,” said Matthess. “With that, we don’t feel like we have a lot of holes to fill. Obviously Riley was a big part of our defense as our leading tackler and any time you have a first team all-district player’s position to fill, that’s kind of a question mark for us.”
Matthess said that Chris Carson will see ample playing time in Domina’s spot on free safety. Carson was ninth on the team in tackles and was second on the team in rushing yards.
“We’ll see how it goes. I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of him in fall camp so far,” said Matthess.
The Indians bring back Spruceton Buddenhagen, Jackson Hoag, Fani Fry, Zethann May and Carson as returning all-district football players.
The impact players will hopefully give Clarke another season where it can improve on the one from before. The 3-6 2018 campaign followed an 0-8 season, showing the team has a steady line of improvement as it enters its third season
A season where the expectations are to move forward and show progress, Matthess expects the team to grow and develop under his coaching tree.
“We’re continuing to build and the numbers are getting stronger,” said Matthess. “Last year we scored over 30 touchdowns compared to three from the previous year. .. Our message to our kids and our kids’ expectations in the locker room are lockstep with each other.
“We’re not a playoff team yet, we recognize that, but we have higher expectations than we did from last year,” added Matthess.
With improvement expected, players for Clarke are hungry for the first winning season for Indians football in nearly 30 years, according to Matthess.
“That’s something our kids are looking forward to. They want that. They’re hungry for it and they know that right now, it starts with Martensdale,” said Matthess.
Week 1 outlook
The Indians host Martensdale-St. Marys (1-0) this Friday to open the season.
Martensdale is fresh off a big Week 0 win that put some confidence in its sails after the possibility of not fielding a team for the 2019 season.
After local and state news became aware of the situation, the Blue Devils eventually swung enough to field a full 11-man team.
“I told our guys that Martensdale is not the same team that we faced last year,” said Matthess. “They are a much better team than what we’ve faced in the past, just like how last year we weren’t the same team from the previous year.”
Matthess and the team are certainly aware of the potential Cinderella story that the Blue Devils can have and resonates with the team after Clarke had gone on an 11-game losing streak – a streak that included it’s 0-8 2017 season.
“Coach Wharton, Martensdale’s head coach, is a tremendous leader so I know he’s going to have them ready to play,” said Matthess. “My message to our guys is to not hurt ourselves and not put ourselves in second or third and long situations. ... Martensdale has some tremendous athletes and we have to have a flawless game to compete with them.”
Kickoff for the Indians versus the Blue Devils comes at 7 p.m. in Osceola.