BERRYVILLE — It couldn’t have taken more than a few-tenths of a second for East Rockingham quarterback Jakari Eaves to realize his pass was destined for the wrong colored jersey.

On the first play of the second quarter in last week’s Region 2B quarterfinal, Eaves tried a slant pass over the middle from his own 31-yard line. Clarke County senior Cordell Broy was already in the process of beating the ERHS receiver to where the ball was headed.

After snagging the high pass near the 45-yard line, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Broy circled to the left. He put his shoulder down and bowled over an ERHS player, allowing him to pick up a few extra yards before he was forced out of bounds at the ERHS 35. A beaming Broy then yelled as he smacked hands with Clarke County assistant coach Shane Markward.

Broy’s made countless big plays with the Clarke County football team this year, and he doesn’t hold back his emotions after them. When you spend nearly three years away from the game you love, it’s impossible to keep all that under wraps.

Broy has enjoyed a varsity debut for the ages this year, winning the Bull Run District Defensive Player of the Year award as a defensive back, earning All-District First Team honors as both a punt returner and kickoff returner, and earning Second Team All-District honors as a running back. Broy’s one of the main reasons why the third-seeded Eagles (10-1) will compete in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2017 when they travel to No. 2 Stuarts Draft (8-2) for a Region 2B semifinal game tonight.

Broy’s late arrival to the varsity isn’t due to being a late bloomer athletically, but rather a being a late bloomer with his maturity. He was expelled from Clarke County High School midway through his freshman year. He frequently got in trouble with the people he spent his time with, and when he did return to school as a sophomore in the fall of 2019, he wasn’t serious about his studies.

For someone who’s known Broy since he was in elementary school, Clarke County head football coach Casey Childs couldn’t be happier to see where Broy is now with his life. Broy is in the same grade as Childs’ youngest son Caleb, so Childs got to know Broy well through Little League football, basketball and baseball as well as travel baseball.

“He’s got a great personality,” Childs said. “When he was younger, he was never disrespectful. He’s always been a really, really nice kid.

“He got himself into some situations where things didn’t work out for him, and he got in some trouble. But to that kid’s credit, to when he was a freshman until now, it’s night and day with his situation. Everything that he’s getting rewarded with this year, I’m just so happy for him, because he’s a kid that’s always been easy to root for.”

If not for the prospect of playing football again, it’s possible Broy might not be doing as well as he is socially and academically.

Finding his way

Broy started playing football around age 6. The thing he loved most about it was simply a chance to play with his friends.

“I just had a passion about it,” said Broy, who’s always been a running back and defensive back.

Broy played for Clarke County’s freshman team in both eighth and ninth grade, and he enjoyed the experience. But midway through his freshman year, he was dismissed from high school for the rest of the year.

Broy didn’t discuss the specifics of the situation during an interview outside Clarke County’s weight room on Monday. It didn’t serve as a wake-up call, though. He said in the summer leading up to his sophomore year, he started hanging out with a group of people that “got me into a lot of trouble.”

“I was running around neighborhoods, doing a lot of dumb stuff,” Broy said.

Those relationships didn’t do anything to help him when he returned to school in the fall of 2019, either.

“I wasn’t paying attention in school,” Broy said.

Broy no longer had to drag himself to high school once schools were shut down in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, making it even more difficult for him to feel motivated to get on the right path.

Broy wasn’t completely devoid of ambition throughout 2019 and 2020, however. A longtime love was never far from his mind.

“Even when I was doing dumb stuff, I was thinking, ‘I could be playing football instead of running around doing this dumb stuff,’” Broy said. “I was always thinking about football.”

Broy said he used to promise one of his grandmothers that he would play football again. Midway through his junior year, a sense of urgency kicked in, and he finally decided to work harder at school. He wanted to play.

Childs said assistant coach Jesse Hudson played a large role in helping Broy stay on track with his schoolwork, and Broy did well enough to become eligible this fall.

Broy said it was an adjustment waking up early for two-a-day practices in August, but it was worth it.

“I always loved the kids on this team,” Broy said. “I love all the guys that play here right now. For me to come back my senior year and do all the stuff I’m doing with them right now, it’s one of the biggest blessings ever.”

Childs said he told Broy in order to join the team again, he had to treat all the coaches and the players with respect.

“Cordell’s been open to anything and everything that we’ve said,” Childs said.

Just as importantly, Childs said Broy also is conducting himself appropriately in the classroom as well.

“Not one negative thing has come since he started playing football this year,” Childs said.

The positive things that Broy has delivered to the Eagles football team are too many to count.

Defensive mastery

Defense is what Broy enjoys the most, and it shows.

Broy started off the year at safety but moved to cornerback after Clarke County shuffled its defense around due to an injury to Brandon Hindman on Oct. 15 in the team’s seventh game.

Wherever Broy’s lined up, he’s been a force. He has four interceptions, has broken up 10 passes and has forced one fumble.

“People don’t really want to throw too much on Cordell or [sophomore cornerback] Will [Booker] because they’re so athletic,” Childs said. “And for a guy who hasn’t played in years, he’s got a sense of knowing what to do.”

He hasn’t been in a position to make many tackles (25) because of Clarke County’s stellar defensive line and linebackers (the Eagles surrender only 6.4 points and 162.8 yards per game). But as evidenced by the way he slammed East Rockingham’s Xavia Brown to the ground after a four-yard catch in Clarke County’s 31-0 victory in last week’s Region 2B quarterfinals, he can be pretty physical when he does have someone in his grasp.

Broy’s signature play on defense this year came on Luray’s first possession in a road game on Oct. 28. On a third down play from the Clarke 35, quarterback Brady Jenkins fooled the Eagles and took off around the left side. Jenkins appeared headed for the end zone until Broy chased him down inside the 5 and punched the ball out on the tackle. The ball went through the end zone for a touchback.

Broy’s play was a combination, of speed, physicality and savvy, because he made the decision to punch the ball out when he saw Jenkins swinging the ball to the side. The Bulldogs would never score in a game Clarke County went on to win 14-0.

“Most kids are just trying to think about making a tackle in that situation,” Childs said. “We never really looked back after that play.”

It’s an example of why there wasn’t too much back-and-forth when the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year came up at the All-Bull Run District meeting. Childs said one coach stated the plays that he made late to help seal games helped seal his vote.

“He’s a talent that the Bull Run doesn’t see on yearly basis,” Childs said.

The award means everything to Broy.

“I never expected it coming into my senior year, because I was being dumb,” Broy said. “It’s the best thing ever.”

Offensive weapon

Running back Kyler Darlington is the workhorse in Clarke County’s single-wing offense, but Booker’s performance as a wing back has been huge for the Eagles. He has 42 carries for 358 yards (8.5 average) and six TDs.

Childs said Broy had to learn patience with running early on — his speed is so great that pulling blockers didn’t have enough time to get themselves in proper position — and as the year has gone on he’s also improved his blocking in terms of technique and effort.

And while the Eagles don’t throw much, Stuarts Draft will need to be prepared if Broy takes off downfield. Broy has gotten behind the defense for 33- and 67-yard touchdown catches on passes from Matthew Sipe the last two weeks, his only two catches of the year.

“We threw a couple of deep balls to him early in the year, it’s just that him and Matthew didn’t really hook up,” said Childs, who thought Sipe might have overthrown Broy on last week’s 67-yard pass until he saw Broy pick up his speed as the ball neared him. “They’re getting a lot better rapport with each other, so our goal is to get him more actively involved in space. We’ve been working on that the last few weeks.”

Childs said just the possibility that Broy might get the ball makes a huge difference.

“We’ve used him so many times as a decoy on offense by putting him in motion, because we know everybody was scared to death of him,” Childs said. “That’s helped Matthew to hit some home runs, it’s allowed some wedge plays to [blocking back] Liam [Whalen], and it’s helped Kyler get some big runs.”

Extra special teamer

Broy has returned 10 punts for 292 yards (29.2) average for two touchdowns and three kickoffs for 62 yards (20.7 average).

“I was talking to one of the coaches after a game this year where they punted to him, and the coach said he told the punter, ‘If you punt to him again, you’re staying in Berryville,’” Childs said. “That’s the special talent he is. We’re getting so many hidden yards because the ball is getting punted out of bounds because they don’t want punt to him. When the ball is put in his hands, it’s electric.

“On kickoffs, you have him and Will side by side. We’re getting good field position because teams are squibbing and popping it up, because they don’t want to kick to them.”

Enjoying himself

Childs said Broy is not only embracing the actual playing of football this year, but the entire student-athlete experience, whether it’s participating in events for the team’s Homecoming pep rally or attending volleyball matches and freshmen football games. Broy will play basketball this year, and Childs said Broy has discussed playing both baseball and competing in track in the spring.

Childs said it’s clear that Broy, who frequently doles out fist bumps and hugs to people in the Clarke County football program, is in a better place.

“He’s getting a lot of camaraderie with some really great kids and some really great coaches and a great community,” Childs said. “The student section chants his name.

“He knows he’s got us for life, just like all of our kids. If he ever needs one of us, we’ll be there in two seconds, no questions asked.”

Broy hopes he can help Clarke County’s playoff journey as long as possible. Every moment on the field is one to savor.

“The excitement level is there,” Broy said. “It’s way up there.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at

rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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