By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
What started as a five-year plan in 2015 will come to full fruition this fall when Clever plays its first varsity football game against Willow Springs.
This will be Jeff Stone’s first varsity game with the program, but he has been the patriarch since 2016 when he and his staff were put in place.
“We were hired in the fall of 2016 to start a program from scratch,” said Stone. “We began with 3rd-6th graders and moved up to junior high in 2017. We started the high school program in 2018 and competed last year with 9th-11th graders. The 6th graders that we started with in 2016 are now sophomores.”
Stone has been coaching football in the area for more than a decade, with stops in Marshfield, Willard, Buffalo and Waynesville. He’s familiar with the culture and togetherness high school sports, especially football, can bring to a small town and he’s excited to help add to that in Clever.
“I feel like players, coaches and community are about as excited as they can be. I don’t think anyone in our community is ready for what a Friday night home game does for your community and kids. It’s a feeling like no other, when everyone in a community is brought together under the lights. We look forward to it.”
Stone is expecting major contributions from a large senior class.
Senior Bryce Gelle will take over at quarterback. Gelle is a basketball standout that brings athleticism to the position.
“Bryce brings stability with his experience at the position,” said Stone. “He didn’t let me know he was coming out for football untill the first day of camp two years ago and he has been our quarterback ever since. He improves leaps and bounds every day. The most impressive thing about Bryce is his work ethic. He shows up to everything and he comes early and stays late, and that’s what you want out of your quarterback.
“He’s been in some pretty big games on the basketball court and you can see that come out on the football field because he doesn’t let big moments get to him good or bad. He is great about continually moving forward to help the team win, and is a very unselfish player.”
Classmates Jake Twigg and Gabe Wallen will likely see reps at running back, with both also figuring into the equation defensively in the secondary and linebacking corps respectively. Justin Allman will see time at fullback as well as linebacker.
Seniors Sam Sinclair, Kadeon Broome, Reid Conrad will anchor the offensive line and will also see defensive reps. Classmates David Maddox, Drew Hanafin, Phillip Helt and Jake Tennis will round out the receiving corps and could potentially be two-way starters.
Stone expects several underclassmen to be in the mix for major roles on both sides of the ball.
The excitement of seeing a long process come to an end will now transition to the process of continuing to build the program’s foundation. Stone and the Jays aren’t focused on wins, but the next step of the foundation, understanding that they’re only a few years into a very long build.
For Clever to have a successful season, Stone isn’t concerned with wins and losses, but his program’s approach to holding each other accountable.
“I think for us what needs to happen is our seniors need to continue to be great leaders,” said Stone. “They didn’t get to learn leadership from the group in front of them because they are the first group. They have worked really hard in the weight room and in practice and for us it’s not about wins and losses it’s about going out every Friday night and proving that they belong on the field.
“I tell the kids all they control is how hard they work and making sure their teammates work just as hard. I feel like if the kids hold each other to those two things and my coaches and I give our best effort to the kids, those results will take care of themselves.”
Clever will play its inaugural varsity football game on Aug. 28 at home against Willow Springs.