CLINTON — Making sure that every player on the team has fun and feels involved is the number one thing new Clinton head football coach Zachary Jones wants to bring to the program in his first year at the helm.
Graduation losses are many, Jones admits. Key players like Gabe Callahan will be missed up front, on both sides of the ball. Preston Sperduto is gone from the receiving corps and Kody Groves is missing from the backfield. Jones said the team lost 14 players in all.
The losses are big, but Jones is confident he still has a lot of raw talent on this team.
“During summer camp and even now, we’re working with individuals on fundamentals like alignment, assignment, and technique,” said Jones, who replaced Frank Williams as the head coach.
With Clinton finishing 2-6 last season and 1-8 the season before, Jones feels the Wildcats need to focus on the elements of good play to face their Class C South competition of Notre Dame, Westmoreland/Oriskany, Mount Markam, Canastota and Southern Hills (Tully). The Warriors also have two non-league games on their schedule with Adirondack and Little Falls from the Class C East.
Returning under center is senior Tanner Deveans, who has been the starting quarterback since he was a freshman.
“Having a player like Tanner Deveans is a pretty good thing to walk into,” Jones said. “He is a great team leader.”
Junior Kole Davignon put down his baseball and glove for the season and picked up a football and helmet. Jones said that so far working with him in camp he feels Davignon is going to be a big benefit to the team.
“Kole has stepped right in there,” Jones said. “He’s progressed very well since summer workouts and I feel confident in him. All the other coaches feel really well about him running the offense too.”
Jones said he sees Davignon playing wideout when not playing quarterback and is just as pumped about the rest of the receiving corps. Senior Edwin Llanos will make some plays this season and junior Rico Lucio is one of the fastest players on the team.
“He’s the type of guy you put him in a phone booth and you can’t catch him,” Jones said. “Senior Kevin Wicox has shown some flashes, too, we hope to use him in some key situations.”
Juniors Aiden Walter and Carter Hindering will anchor the backfield, and senior Matthew Gadziala will also see some touches.
Jones said he’s excited about his O-line.
‘We feel pretty good upfront,” he said. “I gotta give a ton of credit to Coach (Luke) Manolescu, he’s just done a phenomenal job starting the first day this summer. Getting their steps right, making sure they’re mentally tough, doing the right drills. I’m very satisfied.”
Senior Joel Cleveland, who’s made a name for himself as a stand-out baseball pitcher for the Warriors, will be playing center, with Blake Hook subbing in and out. Senior Josh Wilcox will be in one offensive tackle spot, with junior Griffin Seymour playing guard/tackle, and sophomore Andrew Gadziala taking up a guard position. Also, junior Adam Schneider will be a man up front.
“Adam also had a really good summer,” Jones said. “A big kid, only a junior but he’s the type of player who could play offense or defense for us, and senior Matthew Wagner is working in there at either of the tackle spots.”
On the other side of the ball, seniors Evan Wilcox and Walter will push as much to the middle as they can from their defensive end positions. Inside there are multiple players who can move around to different spots. Junior Adam Schneider could see some time along with sophomore Andrew Gadziala and Seymour.
Senior Josh Wilcox will man the strong side at linebacker, with Hinderling and Cleveland switching out on the weak side. The defensive backfield has multiple talented players with senior Zachary Ellison, Llanos, Deveans, and Lucio, and others dusting off the old “Iron-man” style of play.
Jones, who played defensive back with Utica College, and coached at Camden and Canastota, is joined by fellow Pioneers teammate Manolescu as assistant coach. Jones’ younger brother, Kevin, a former SUNY Brockport football player and Camden track and field coach, rounds out the staff this year.
The Warriors kick off their season in non-league play when they face Adirondack at home on Saturday, Sept. 7 at noon.