REBUILDING OR RELOADING?

in Football

Despite losing 13 to graduation, the Clifton Cubs enter 2020 season ranked 21st in Class 3A, DII preseason state poll

ALEDO — After advancing to the Class 3A, Division II postseason for six consecutive seasons, the Clifton Cubs expect to be the playoffs every year under the guidance of head coach Chuck Caniford. And even after Clifton lost 13 lettermen to graduation and lost some valuable rebuilding time during the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the song remains the same.

With Dave Campbell’s Texas Football picking Clifton as the state’s 21st-ranked team in Class 3A, DII, the Cubs plan to reload using 15 returning lettermen despite listing only six seniors on the roster. And after being forced to make some scheduling changes due to the UIL’s staggered start to the high school football season and possibly restrictions, Caniford’s Cubs will take on Class 4A, DII playoff hopeful Sanger in the season opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium.

“We used every option we had to try to find games when McClennan County shut down,” Caniford said. “I don’t even remember how we found out we were both looking, but we started talking and felt like it would be a good fit if we could find a site to play. Aledo was gracious enough to host us so it worked out well. 

“Playing at Aledo also gives everyone who wants to attend the opportunity to go to the game, which is big since we will have limited capacities most weeks due to COVID restrictions.”

Despite returning five offensive and six defensive starters from the 2020 squad, the Cubs will field a relatively young and inexperienced team.

Offensively, junior Griffin Phillips takes over at quarterback with junior Jimmie Taylor at running back while junior Alex DeLaHoya plays fullback and senior Luis Rodriguez takes over at wide receiver. In the trenches, senior Michael McDowell and junior Matthew Hobbs will anchor the offensive line.

The Clifton defense will be led by senior linebackers Elias Tebo and Devin Byrd, along with sophomore Joe Taylor on the defensive line. The defensive backfield will be manned by seniors Tyler Anderson and Jose Ramirez, who also returns as placekicker.

But with only one scrimmage allowed this season due to the UIL’s COVID-19 restrictions, the Clifton coaching staff will still be evaluating talent early on in the non-district schedule.

‘”I think, like everyone, we still have a lot of questions that we need to answer, and that’s really what these non-district games are all about,” Caniford said. “I’ve always tried to challenge our teams in non-district so that we can get a true evaluation of where we are at each week with the goal being to have answers to those questions by the time district play rolls around.” 

After a rough rebuilding season in 2019, Sanger second-year head coach Rocky Smart believes his Indians are ready to compete for a playoff berth in District 4-4A, Division II, which also featured sixth-ranked Celina. Sanger returns 18 lettermen, which includes six offensive and three defensive starters.

Junior Rylan Smart returns at quarterback after passing for 931 yards and two touchdowns along with  538 rushing yards and seven scores in 2019. The signal caller will be joined in the backfield by Tallyn Wellborn, who rushed for 867 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

“Rocky does a good job with his kids, and they were very young last year,” Caniford said. “They’ve got some weapons on offense. They’ve got a big back that will pound you, and then another kid that can fly that they will get the ball to. His son is the QB, and he’s been around the game his whole life, so it will be tough to rattle him.

“Defensively, they’ve got good size up front and bring a lot of pressure. We have to do a good job at the line of scrimmage to be able to have success on offense.”

After revamping the non-district slate, Caniford put together arguably one of the toughest schedules the Cubs have faced since he took over in Clifton seven years ago.

“It is a very difficult schedule,” Caniford said. “But our hope is that, in the end, the schedule will help our young kids develop quickly and have them ready to roll in district play.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING & SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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