2018 Gridiron: Clark County Indians
Colors: Red and gray
Total Returning Lettermen: 18
2017 Overall Record: 9-5
Head Coach: Ethan Allen
Years at School: 3
Record at School: 19-17
Overall Record: 19-17
LONDON CALLING: INDIANS LOOM AS THE INDUSTRY STANDARD BEARER FOR FOOTBALL EXCELLENCE IN 2018
WHEN LAST WE LEFT CLARK COUNTY: Ethan Allen’s precocious crew was busy carving out a wonderfully entertaining Final Four run in Class 2 that was ultimately dashed by eventual state “silver medalist” Lafayette County. Granted, it was not the Hollywood ending the Indians wanted. That established and in keeping with the cinematic vibe, the 2017 season itself was a pitch-perfect coming of age story that saw Clark County rebound from a 1-3 start to rise into a newly empowered crew that won eight straight contests henceforth while emerging from off-radar to advance to the State Semifinals. The end game obviously reads well here, but it only hints at the spun-forward value in play for this program. The Journey, more than The Destination last season, is what matters here moving forward as the Indians not only spurred the rise of quality future starters, but indisputable and enviable returning program lynchpins. So much so, that this might well be, with apologies to Monroe City, the best-heeled program in our region to make a 2018 Title Run. Put simply, the Indians are no one to trifle with as currently constructed. And allowing for another year of maturation and the rise of a few more critical “role players” and an absolute danger to anyone they encounter this Fall.
A WELL STOCKED CUPBOARD: On premise, any Final Four Team that carries over fourteen full-time starters into a new campaign will be subject to considerable preseason hype/favorable rankings treatment by default alone.
I’d argue even by that standard, however, Clark County’s forward-looking scenarios are particularly beguiling to football tastemakers.
The easy urge here is to point out Clark’s simmering collection of returning skill position weapons and conjecture as to who might be able to slow, let alone stop such an arsenal. But from my vantage point, that offense might be the lesser evil for opponents to counter.
With eight starters back from a unit that allowed fewer than 19 points per game a year ago, The Indians read on paper as arguably the best Defense this school has assembled since the 2008 Title Run. That’s indubitably high praise and Coordinator Bryan Plenge will have to replace a pair of All State Caliber performers in Zeb Riney and Jack Hunziker to get there. But in a best case scenario, this group has that ceiling. Moreover, unlike some of the past elite Defenses we’ve bird-dogged in the Playbook, the strength of this group is less about any single contributor than it is about the collective. There may be past units that produced Bigger Names or more hyped Rainmaker-type, but rarely have we seen a coupling of kids one-through-eleven that are this air-tight across the board. I’d argue that much of this owes to the rise of Defensive Linemen Nick Gray (51 tackles) and Kyle Golbricht (57 tackles, 3 Force Fumbles) over the course of last year from unknown commodities into true difference makers alongside Jack Hunziker. This created significant blocking scheme issues for opponents, with both the opportunistic Gray and hulking Golbricht befuddling those who tried to scheme them up with single blocker attention and turned Defensive Line from a question mark into a plus for Clark County in 2017. Their transformative impact was one of the real undersold stories of last Fall, but it also now places a much greater burden of expectation on both. Absent Hunziker’s domineering presence, Nick and Kyle are going to receive a lot more blocking attention and they’ve got to prove they can take the next echelon ascent individually and meet that challenge just to keep this line on pace with last year’s group. The new starters here (Tyler Walker, perhaps Jaden Bethel) are also tasked with filling big shoes on the fly. But if the Clark County Defensive Line gels, the rest of the scenario is incredible.
To wit, the Indians Linebacker-centric system boasts four potential 100 tackle performers. Senior Chayson Kleine and Junior Caleb Lapsley posted 112 and 123 stops respectively a year ago. Spencer Gregory added another 84 and showed as much big play splash (8 tackles for loss, three sacks, and even a Kick Off return for touchdown) as anyone on the roster. And Trevor Schorr showed great grit and point of attack strength stacking up against the run as a Sophomore with 52 tackles and enough range to notch three QB sacks as well. For my money, it’s the most intrigue position group in Tri-State Football, with unreal speed from Lapsley and Gregory off the edge and two perfectly pugnacious bulldogs in the middle in Schoor and Kleine (the later of whom might read pursuit angles as well as anyone in the region) Suffice it to say, Clark County is loaded at Linebacker and still surprisingly good in the Secondary with the returns of gifted two-way performers Dalton Albert (60 tackles, 3 Interceptions) and London Brunk (46 stops, 3 picks, 2 breakups) as well. Put simply, this Clark Defense is not one to be trifled with.
BRUNK HISTORY: Said it to the point of cliché last November: London Brunk getting comfortable at Quarterback was the single biggest outlier in Clark County’s turnaround. We all reference his remarkable pocket presence in the District Win over Palmyra, but the truth is the 5’10” Senior has been quietly evolving and moving past his early career growing pains every step of the way. That’s a credit to London’s makeup. He’s found the balance in himself to transform from really good athlete who wanted to show off his running ability at the first sign of trouble to now true Quarterback and polished presence who can beat a defense with every asset at his disposal. Brunk threw for 1384 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and ran for another 11 scoring tallies. That’s top notch production. But I’d further suggest what we saw last year was just a tease of his two way ability moving forward. Armed with really good receiving weapons in Dalton Albert and Logan Claiborne, with whom he has already shown a nifty chemistry, it’s not a stretch to suggest Clark will be far more effective stretching the field and attacking over the top in 2018. Expect the attempts and total yardage to rise and the interception numbers to curtail. If October and November taught us any one thing, it is that London Brunk has figured this Quarterbacking thing out and when his confidence is high, he’s as good as they come in Tri-State Football.
THE FIELD TILTER: As a Sophomore this Spring, Caleb Lapsley ran a School Record 10.6 100 meters at a regular season meet at Putnam County before going on to ultimately finish as the second fastest Class 2 Sprinter in the State of Missouri. He’s crazy quick by Missouri Small School Football standards. And largely on the strength of that speed alone, Lapsley became a true breakout star for the Indians as a Sophomore with 1107 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. The scarier part of that equation is that Lapsley emerged while still trying to figure out Varsity Football on the job. He was really rawand yet really, really good last Fall. Now just imagine what he might be now that his teeth are cut. Once he adds a little wiggle to his style. Sophomore Year Caleb Lapsley was kind of a straight line runner. Don’t get me wrong: I love that Caleb actually attacks the hole like a Fullback rather than a Tailback, with full head of steam and no wasted motion or energy. And if there is a seam there, no one in the state is catching him. The fun part of this, however, is Lapsley is bound to get a whole lot savvier now in reading the field, setting up his blockers, cutting back against the grain. Finding new ways to use that speed. And the Indians are going to get a whole lot more creative in finding ways to get him the ball in space. He catches it well out of the backfield, as we have seen from his early returns. Bottom line, as good as he looked last Fall, Caleb Lapsley has barely scratched the surface of what his ceiling could look like. The next two years in Kahoka are going to be super fun.
QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE ANSWERS: Clark County’s Offensive Line was really good last season, if not nearly celebrated enough. The Indians return only Kyle Golbricht (6’ 275lbs) and Damien Scharfenberg (6’1” 280lbs) from that front wall. Those are two large and terrific building blocks to start the process, but there is still a sizeable chunk of production to replace up front for an offense that averaged 29.7 points per game last season. Hard to find many real concerns looming with this roster, but Offensive Line continuity is always a conference for me until it isn’t. That unit will be under a considerable microscope this Summer.
THE BREAKOUT GUY: The Zeb Riney Storyline was once-in-a-lifetime. Kid comes off the couch to try Football in his Senior Year and emerges as an All-Conference performer on one side of the football and an All-Stater on the other? That just doesn’t happen. Ever. But that doesn’t diminish the Indians need to cultivate a Riney-esque counterpunch to the main offensive set-pieces previously mentioned above. So let us go Deep Sleeper here and assay a fantastically promising Junior Class for potential skill position weapon support. Some names to remember here at Wide Receiver: Conner Mack, Tanner Elam, Logan Gutting and Basketball standout Brandon Kracht. Do not sleep on good looking Running Back Prospect David Lemmon, who could be in-line to spell Lapsley, garner carries, and broaden an already loaded Offensive Backfield. Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of secrets out there or potential avenues to the field for this star-studded roster.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: I’d be hard-pressed to pick a specific football situation I like more than the one in play here for Ethan Allen. Having already addressed the talent and experience advantages this program enjoys, let me add that in contrast to last season (when Clark County had to start the year with a Murderer’s Row of Monroe City/Centralia/West Hancock and Palmyra) the Indians get the lion’s share of their more difficult contests in mid/late October this season. In essence then, the schedule makers are giving this group a running start into the Fall. For a two-month stretch last Fall, we saw just how dominant a Clark County squad with momentum can look, so that bodes well for no one if the Indians break right early. Centralia and West Hancock will be nice early tests in Week Two and Week Three, but I suspect Clark will be the favorite in both of those contests. And every other one running up to back to back dates with Palmyra and then defending Class 1 Champ Monroe City on October 5th and 12th Those might not only be the two-biggest red-letter games on the Indians Calendar this year, but also the two best pairings we see on the local gridiron this year. And going into District play, those will be two fantastic litmus tests in answering the handful of questions we do have about this well-constructed team. To my mind, if Clark County is luck enough to be healthy and the Offensive Line gels as expected, there is no small school team in the Show Me State the Indians can’t beat. There’s no goal that should be off the table for them and no lack of incentive to work harder than anyone else to maximize their window of opportunity, because that window is limited only by the scope of their desire. Clark County on Thanksgiving Weekend on the big stage? Not only plausible but to my mind, but probable if these kids are anywhere near as hungry, hard working, and execution obsessed as they were last Fall. This is a great young coaching staff and an elite roster. The other variables are beyond control but on that premise alone, I love the potential simmering here and the soaring potential for an even more celebratory conclusion to the 2018 campaign than the one the football-crazed denizens of Clark County are still buzzing about from last November.