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.