Clarke football enters the 2020 season with a new look and new positivity as the program aims to shift its culture.
Jerrod Gaskill took over the head coaching job after Clarke spent three seasons under Duane Matthess’ direction. Before becoming the head coach, Gaskill was the defensive coordinator.
Gaskill said he’s excited to take over the program, coaching at his “dream job.”
Clarke has already been on the field in 2020, scrimmaging against West Central Valley Aug. 21, getting some “bumps and bruises,” but firing Gaskill and the team up for the remainder of the season.
With a new head coach comes a new philosophy. The Indians are getting rid of the single-wing offense and moving toward a more balanced option attack. With the change, Gaskill said the adjustments are going to take time after Clarke hasn’t used many wideouts in the past few seasons.
“We’re completely getting out of the single-wing,” Gaskill said. “I’ll be honest, that’s been the most frustrating part. We’re going to a Wing-T offense, so still running, but we are spreading out trying to throw too. ... They haven’t run routes in three years. ... These freshmen haven’t run routes since they were in fifth grade.
“Trying to teach these kids with a short summer just even how to run a route has been extremely challenging, to say the least. But, I like where we’re at. We had a really good scrimmage Friday night. I feel like we dominated the scrimmage against West Central Valley, and I like where we’re going forward. We’re just going to have some growing pains,” Gaskill said.
The key to success comes with experience, however. The offensive line returns a strong group of starters from a year ago, highlighted by three-star prospect Spruceton Buddenhagen.
“This is what’s going to win us games, our offensive and defensive lines,” Gaskill said. “We’re absolutely stacked defensive line-wise. Basically, everybody is returning there. I wouldn’t be surprised if all four of our guys were all-district linemen. ... The line play is what’s going to win us games no question, in my mind.”
The first big test for Clarke’s offensive line and Buddenhagen comes in the first week of the season against Southeast Valley. The Jaguars bring in a 6-foot-4-inch 220-pound four-star University of Iowa commit Aaron Graves.
Gaskill said he is excited about the opportunity for the matchup and feels it could be a good opportunity for Buddenhagen and the remainder of the offensive line to build some confidence early in the year.
“This Friday, I’m so excited for Spruceton and Aaron Graves to go against each other. I think it’s going to be such a good test for Spruceton, getting recruited the way he is and Graves already committed to Iowa,’” Gaskill said. “I think it’s going to be a good game, for sure.”
Continuing to praise the line, Gaskill said the linemen have “a lot more miles under the belt” after playing for multiple years together, giving them the experience necessary to adapt to the new style of play.
Offensively, Zethann May returns as the quarterback to lead the offense. Gaskill said despite not passing much in the past few seasons, May has the best arm on the team.
The Indians passed 35 times last season, completing 10 passes for 152 yards. Tanner Fry was the leading receiver with six catches for 54 yards and returns for his senior season. Gaskill said he plans on using May’s athleticism and be more balanced rushing and passing.
Defensively, Clarke shouldn’t skip a beat as Gaskill moved from defensive coordinator to head coach.
Gaskill said the team has close to 60 players this year, but he doesn’t plan on playing freshmen if he doesn’t have to put them in the game.
With an experienced group of upperclassmen, the same players like Buddenhagen, Will Smith and Jacob Smith from the offensive side of the ball will be an important role on the defensive side.
“Our first-teamers are extremely versatile, they’ve been here for a long time. They’ve had a lot of playing time” Gaskill said. “But, our second, third-stringers, it drops off quite a bit after that. Pretty much everyone is both ways. I have a few kids I’m trying not to (play both ways), but pretty much everyone is playing both ways.”
Jacob Smith returns this year after a 2019 season with 42.5 tackles, two sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Buddenhagen had 26.5 tackles while Fry had 21.5 tackles of his own.
With a bevy of talent returning and being around the senior class since they were sophomores, he’s confident in what they group can do in his first year.
“If we can stay healthy, I’m looking at our schedule and there is not doubt in my mind that we’re going to have our first winning record in 25 years,” Gaskill said. “But, with our depth, it just falls off after our ones, we get a couple of injuries, we could really, really struggle.”
The first group Clarke plays in trying to gain its first winning season in the quikstats era starts with Southeast Valley at home, starting at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Jaguars are coming off a 5-4 season with a balanced attack through the air and on the ground. Southeast Valley did lose its quarterback Hunter Kruse to graduation, leaving now-junior Lathe Muench with only one pass attempt last season. Muench was also the leading rusher for the Jaguars last season with 134 carries and 609 yards on the ground.
One season ago, Graves had 55 tackles, 10 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. Gameplanning to keep the Wing-T offense away from Graves is going to be a big part of the success for Clarke Friday.