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August 26, 2021

SETTING STANDARD FOR SUCCESS

in Football

After staying home for the first time in seven seasons, Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs strive to return to postseason after rare absence in 2020

CLIFTON – By missing the Class 3A, Division II playoffs in 2020, the Clifton Cubs watched their season come to an early and abrupt end for the first time in the last seven seasons. But Clifton athletic director and football head coach Chuck Caniford believes the Cubs enter the 2021 campaign primed to return to the postseason coming out of the tough District 13-3A, DII.

“We feel good about the team we have coming into the fall,” Caniford said. “Playoff appearances are earned in the fall, not in the media over the summer. We understand that we have a lot of work to do and that we play in the toughest 3A district in the state.

“The results of last season are unacceptable and do not meet our standards. Our kids have worked hard in the off-season and this summer to make sure that this fall is much different.”

With 18 returning lettermen that includes seven offensive and seven defensive starters, the Cubs will be equiped to take on the wealth of talent in District 13-3A, DII. Clifton begins its quest for success by playing host to the Class 2A, Division I’s 19th-ranked Bosqueville Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cub Stadium.

In 2020, Clifton stayed home for the postseason and watched as all four playoff qualifiers from the district – Franklin, Buffalo, Rogers and Lexington – advanced to Region IV seminfinals. After losing in the 2020 state championship game, Franklin enters the season as the state’s top-ranked team.

So make not mistake, the Cubs will not have to wait until the playoffs to face the best the state has to offer.

“We have gotten a really good start on our install last spring and throughout the summer,” Caniford said. “What we are looking for in camp is execution. We have to identify the guys that can contribute to success on Friday night and get them in the best position to be able to help us achieve our goals.”

Despite a strong group of offensive skill position players returning from last season with senior running back Alex DeLaHoya, senior tight end Griffin Phillips, junior running back Larrett Thomas and sophomore quarterback Riley Finney, the Cubs continue to look for the right combination of offensive linemen to control the trenches, creating running room and time to throw the ball.

On the offensive line, senior center Logan Weir returns as the anchor, along with senior Sergio Garcia as well as juniors Caden Page and Jackson Newton.

“We are still learning some of the adjustments that we have made on offense and that showed at times,” said Caniford after the first scrimmage against both Blooming Grove and Italy. “We have to eliminate the mental errors and take care of the football better. We have to play faster as well. We are thinking way too much right now and it needs to be automatic. Unfortunately, the only way for it to become automatic is more reps, and that will take some time.”

Defensively, the Cubs have looked solid early with Caniford calling the defensive line  –  manned by returning starters DeLaHoya along with juniors Weston Urbanovsky and  Makail Brandenberger – one of the team’s strengths.

Other returning defensive starters include seniors Doniven King and JP Gardner with junior Larrett Thomas in the defensive backfield, as well as senior Will Simmons and Phillips as linebackers.

Caniford and his coaching staff will rely on a group of returning lettermen and a host of key newcomers to fill the open spots on the depth chart.

Returning lettermen include junior wide receiver-defensive back Carter Tunnell, junior wide receiver AJ Lingo, senior offensive lineman Freeman Hamilton and senior tight end Zach Hohertz, as well as senior quarterback-defensive back Robert Goodman, a move-in from Midway.

Key newcomers will be junior Peyten Urbanovsky, junior Kenneth Reierson, senior Carlos Villareal, sophomore Jorge Devora and sophomore Parker Tunnell.

But even as the season begins, the Cubs will remain a work-in-progress leading up to district competition with one goal to focus on each week.

“Simple, be better than we were last week,” Caniford said. “That’s really our total focus in the scrimmages and non-district schedule. If we can continue to improve each week, then we will be ready for the district schedule. And that’s where all of our goals will be achieved.”

With every new Texas high school football season comes new beginnings. August brings regenerated possibilities and boundless enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead. And after navigating Covid delays and protocols last season, it feels like life is finally getting back to normal.

“It definitely feels a lot closer to normal than it did this time last year,” Caniford said. “There is still a bit of uncertainty with all the talk in the media right now regarding the resurgence of the virus. But for now, we are optimistic that this will be a much more “normal” fall.”

And for the Clifton Cubs, returning to “normal” will mean making a trip to the playoffs.

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by TERRI HUFFMAN-FINNEY & courtesy of White’s Photography©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ONE STEP AT A TIME

in Football

Showing steady improvement over two seasons, the Class 2A, DII Meridian Yellowjackets seeking rise to the next level in third campaign under Morton

MERIDIAN – Make no mistake about it, the Meridian Yellowjackets have taken strides in the right direction while growing up on the gridiron over the last two seasons. And as they prepare to open the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Jackets plan to take it to the next level.

“Our expectations are playoffs,” said Meridian football head coach Wade Morton entering his third season leading the Jackets. “There is no other expectation but our own, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on. We have to do a great job of being mentally prepared and becoming better students of the game, and the schemes we need to perfect.”

The Jackets will open the season by hosting the Kerens Bobcats, picked to place second in the tough District 8-2A, DI behind 20th-ranked Italy, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Jacket Stadium. Despite the experience of 15 returning lettermen that includes nine offensive and eight defensive starters, Meridian remains young with only two seniors on the roster. But in what the Jackets will be lacking in senior leadership and experience, Morton hopes to make up for it with overall team depth.

“We’re going to be versatile,” Morton said. “We have depth and the ability to multiple on offense and vanilla on defense.”

With the offensive skill positions capably manned with returning starters, junior John Bernal makes the move to receiver as sophomore Brayden Wehmeyer takes over at quarterback, while junior Brady Taylor returns at running back along with junior tight end Dustan Bowers, while Alejandro Rodriguez takes over at wide receiver.

In the trenches, the Jacket offensive line will be anchored by two returning starters  –  senior Paul Rivera (6-0, 260) and junior Carl Willams (6-3, 230), along with prospect Noah Alvizo.

As Meridian returns to battle in District 8-2A, Division II, the defending champion Albany Lions enter the 2021 season as the fifth-ranked team in the state followed by the 23rd-ranked Santo Wildcats.

After rolling through district undefeated in 2020, Albany advanced to the Region II semifinals while the district’s other three playoff qualifers took early exits with bi-district losses. The Jackets hope to compete with the 2020 district runnerup Cross Plains Buffaloes and the Hico Tigers for a 2021 playoff berth.

Sometimes, the best way to find out exactly where you stand can be by lining up against the best. And that’s exactly what Morton did by taking on the 2020 Class 2A, DI state semifinalist Crawford Pirates in Meridian’s first scrimmage.

“We were able to move the ball, and we were very pleased with the players effort,” Meridian football head coach Wade Morton said. “We were pleased with the players’ effort and sense of urgency.”

Consequently, the Jackets found that out from the first snap. Going into Morton’s third season at the helm in Meridian, the Jackets remain a work-in-progress while showing steady improvement over the last two years.

Fielding a young, but experienced squad, Meridian’s effort against the Pirates reflected exactly that, improving as the scrimmage went along.

“It’s great to be able to have two scrimmages again,” said Morton after being limited to only one scrimmage before the 2020 season due to Covid protocols. “We’re looking forward to some drastic improvement before the season begins.”

Although Meridian has not qualified for the postseason since 2017, the Jackets have a rich Texas high school football tradition dating back to 1916 – four seasons before the University Interscholastic League even existed.

While posting an impressive all-time 536-392-36 win-loss-tie record for a .560 winning percentage, the Jackets have qualified for the postseason 26 times and won 16 district titles.

With the slogan “Restore the Swarm,” Morton returned to his Bosque County roots to take his first head coaching job at Meridian in 2019 with the plan to rebuild the tradition-rich Yellowjacket football program from the ground up.

“We knew everything was going to be a challenge,” said Morton, who graduated from Clifton High School in 1995 before attending Tarleton State University and graduating in 2000.  “We have to be consistent all the way from the top and let it trickle from there.  We as coaches have to hold ourselves accountable and practice what we always preach — be where your feet are.”

After learning real-time lessons in scrimmages against Crawford and Italy, the Jackets will turn their attention to their season opener Aug. 27 when Meridian hosts the Kerens Bobcats on Parent Night at Jacket Stadium.

“It’s great to just have kids back in general,” Morton said. “It’s as normal as it’s going to get and kids are excited about going to the next level.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by ASHLEY BARNER & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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