Football: Clear Creek out to build on 2010
Clear Creek football shows no signs of a hangover coming off the best season in program history.
"We're not seeing any complacency and the players are still very hungry," Clear Creek coach Darrell Warden said. "We're very pleased with their enthusiasm, and the hard work they put in over the summer, and even though we're trying to build on last season, this is a new team, and we have some holes to fill."
The Wildcats' 9-4 finish included postseason triumphs over Fort Bend Travis 37-34 and La Porte 16-0, and it was the first time for two playoff wins in one season.
A big part of that team's production graduated, including do-it-all C.J. McElroy (recently signed as an outfielder by the St. Louis Cardinals) and quarterback Chris Collins, but seniors like running back Colby Davis are back and ready to go for a postseason trifecta or more.
"I'm looking forward to running behind this offensive line," said Davis, who had 1,046 total offensive yards (891 rushing, 155 receiving) and 12 touchdowns last season. "I was able to put on about 10 pounds and not give up any speed, and in fact, I'm a little faster now."
Davis being faster and stronger could be bad news for Clear Creek opponents, who also have to deal with sophomore Kaliq Kokuma and junior Sean Christian at running back, and new senior quarterback Austin Smith.
"We have three good running backs and we'll have all three on the field at the same time in some special packages," Warden said, "and Smith is a winner who you feel comfortable with at quarterback because he can handle the pressure, and he has the respect of his teammates."
Senior wide receiver and return specialist Dion Lewis played alongside McElroy last year and is ready to step into more of the spotlight as one of Smith's top targets, along with junior wide outs Chris Mirka and Bane Bilc.
Right guard Brent Wagner (6-2, 265) and left tackle Cory Zunker (6-3, 280) are senior leaders as third-year starters for an offensive front that also features sophomore right tackle Myles Becnal (6-4, 280) and junior center Daniel Williams (6-3, 260).
"We definitely have four good ones, and we have two or three others competing for the left guard spot," Warden said.
Outside linebacker-strong safety Brandon Martin was a first team all-district pick a year ago, and part of a strong senior presence in the secondary with safeties Matte Seale and Logan Jentzen, and cornerback Dillon Johnson, and they're all helping junior newcomer Marvis Nelson settle in at the other corner.
"There's a lot of experience there, and Jentzen could also be a factor at wide receiver," Warden said.
The senior leadership spills over into the defensive line with returning starters Ben LaRocca and Tyler Pierce, and they'll take some of the pressure off junior newcomer Andre Ross at defensive end, and a somewhat fresh crop of linebackers including junior letterman Ian Wooldridge, and seniors Cameron Speth (knee injury last year but now full speed), Justin Everrette and Michael Fontana.
"Linebacker was one of the biggest holes we had to fill going into the spring, and we're pleased with the progress," Warden said, "but just like every position, there's work to be done, and we're still working on going from a 4-5-2 to a 3-4 defensively."
Special teams center around a pair of veterans in senior kicker Tanner Graeber and junior punter Mitchell Becker, and both can comfortably fill in for each other.
Clear Creek welcomes Hastings for a 10 a.m. scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 19, and then heads into a non-district schedule of Pasadena Memorial (away Aug. 27), Kingwood (home Sept. 2) and Deer Park (homecoming Sept. 9).
An open week (Sept. 16) precedes the 24-5A slate that starts with Dickinson (home Sept. 23), and also has (in order) Clear Brook, Brazoswood, Pearland, Alvin, Clear Springs and Clear Lake.
"You have to give Pearland a nod as the defending state champion, and Clear Springs has built a solid program, but I don't know if there is a clear-cut favorite," Warden said. "Just about every team lost some key players, including us, so there are some questions that have to be answered throughout the district.
"We feel like we have the pieces to the puzzle, but now, we have to fit them all together."
Pearland, Clear Springs, Dickinson and Clear Creek represented 24-5A in last year's playoffs.