Clarke football preview: New looks in the wings for Eagles
BERRYVILLE — Clarke County High School’s football team will have a couple of new looks this season and one will be visible the moment the team steps on the field.
The Eagles have a brand new logo on their helmets, and it’s somewhat symbolic of their evolving offensive scheme.
Clarke’s helmets have an orange wing on the side of the navy blue helmet (featuring a new matte finish instead of metallic navy blue) with a small interlocking “CC” on the back.
“The kids wanted to make a change so we did,” said Clarke County director of student activities and defensive coordinator Casey Childs.
The new helmets feature both new and old elements and the same can be said about the team’s offense.
The Eagles’ will still rely on the single wing as their base offense, but they plan to sprinkle in both pistol and spread formations.
Clarke County quarterback Sean McDonald, who rushed for 680 yards and five touchdowns, said the goal of the pistol and spread formations will be to give the Eagles a more balanced offense.
“I think a lot of times we became predictable last year and that’s something that you’ve got to get out of,” said McDonald, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior who was a second team All-Bull Run District selection last year. “Especially when we get deeper into the season and teams have more film to watch. We’re going to make sure we’re keeping defenses on their toes, especially now that we can air it out.
“It’s another weapon into our system, and I’m real excited to take on a bigger role — to throw it, call audibles — the whole nine yards.”
Replacing the rushing yards of last year’s tailback Davey Hardesty will be something that McDonald must do in part, but the majority of the carries will now go to senior tailback/linebacker Josh Dulaney.
He didn’t have a carry in a back-up role to Hardesty last season, but the 6-2, 205-pound Dulaney said the new pistol and spread wrinkles in the offense should only help the ground game because opposing teams can’t load the box to defend the run.
“We’re normally a single wing but this year we’re not going to be afraid to throw,” Dulaney said. “We’ve got Sean [at quarterback] and he’s got a really good arm. He’s been working hard over the summer to get down his form and precision so this year we’re not going to be afraid to throw. Giving us balance, it will be easier to open up the run. [Opposing teams] are going to have to play both. Usually it’s just the run and defenses prepare for the run but this year defenses have got a little bit different look to prepare for.”
With Hardesty and McDonald accounting for 212 of the team’s 260 carries, Dulaney will get the majority of the carries senior blocking back Andy King (5-11, 205), wingback Wayne Rouss and running back Kasey Lake.
At wide receiver, Lake and Rouss appear to be the Eagles’ main targets. Lake returns as Clarke’s leading receiver after making four catches for 56 yards and a score last year.
The Eagles’ offense averaged 334.3 yards, including 247 yards rushing, a season ago.
Clarke returns nine starters on offense, including 6-4, 240-pound senior tackle Luke Estep, a second team All-Bull Run District selection who should anchor the Eagles’ offensive front at right tackle. Junior Buck Bloomingdale (6-0, 210) will play left tackle, juniors Carson Perkins (6-2, 215) and Logan Withers (5-10, 200) will play guard and sophomore Julius Grant (5-11, 220) will also be in the mix up front as well as senior tight ends Vince Zduoba (6-2, 210) and Ben Wallace (6-2, 190).
“We’re not the biggest group of guys but we’re more athletic and we’ve been lifting,” said Estep of the team’s offensive line. “We’ve got a bunch of scrappy, athletic guys.”
Estep said that description fits the team as whole, and a solid offseason in the weight room needs to pay off with several two-way players.
“We’ve got a really good group and a strong group,” said Estep, who made 55 tackles and also earned second team all-district honors at defensive tackle a season ago. “We’ve been in the weight room a lot more and we’ve got a solid bunch of athletic people.”
The Eagles return eight starters on defense, led by Dulaney’s area-best 145 tackles. King (76 tackles) and second team all-district defensive end Wallace (50 tackles, 31/2sacks) also give Clarke added experience and playmakers in their base 50 defense that limited opponents to less than 100 yards rushing five times last season.
Zduoba joins Estep at tackle and other players in the mix to start on defense include Perkins at linebacker, Rouss and Lake at defensive back, McDonald at free safety along with Justin Delaney and Jordan Turner also in the mix in the secondary.
Parker said the kicking duties have been “a work in progress” and will likely be split between Josh Dulaney, who will handle kicks, and Lake, who has been working on punts. Rouss and Lake will likely handle most of the return duties.
Clarke finished 6-5 overall and 3-3 in the Bull Run District last season. Parker said the Eagles would like to improve on that district mark, but he expects it will be another competitive race once again.
“Central is the team to beat — they have everybody back and they’re just loaded,” Parker said. “They can run, they can throw and their running backs are tough. They’ll be the ones with the target on their back.
“Strasburg will be really tough even though they lost [first team all-district running back Rakwon] White and I imagine Manassas Park will be too. Madison has improved so it’s still a crapshoot.”
With 11 seniors and 12 juniors, Parker said there’s been a lot of good leadership and and a strong work ethic during the offseason.
“Their attitudes are great and it’s one of the hardest working teams as a collective group in the weight room that we’ve had,” Parker said. “As a whole, they work very hard so I hope it carries over.”
The Eagles open the season on the road at Berkeley Springs, W.Va., on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Clarke travels to face Stonewall Jackson in Week 2 before taking on Brentsville in the home opener on Sept. 20.
The Eagles district opener will be the following week at Strasburg on Sept. 27.
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