Your Prep Sports
TIFFIN – The first three years of the Matt Hughes era at Clear Creek Amana have featured steady progress.
Following a four-win campaign in his debut season, Hughes has directed the Clippers to 12 wins and back-to-back playoff berths the past two seasons.
Is year number four under Hughes the year those small steps toward success turn into a big leap?
If you ask the Clippers the answer is a resounding yes.
“I definitely think we can make a big jump this year,” senior running back Drake Brezina said. “We have a lot of returning people that have experience and understand what the big stage is like and we want more. We want to be better.”
Clear Creek Amana has steadily gotten better since Hughes and his father Ronnie took over the program before the 2013 season.
The Clippers went 7-3 in 2014 and rebounded from an 0-3 start last fall to finish 5-5.
Both seasons ended with tough to swallow first-round playoff exits.
Clear Creek Amana fell to Newton 23-21 in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs and dropped a 13-7 decision to Maquoketa in its postseason opener last year.
“We are sitting here in year four trying to win our first playoff game but I think that is just the evolution of building a program, it takes time,” Matt Hughes said. “Now we have groups of kids that have been here the whole time and hopefully we start to see some change in terms of winning some playoff games and making some runs in the playoffs.”
The foundation is set for that playoff success to come this season.
Eight starters return on an offense that transformed into one of the most efficient rushing offenses in Class 3A last season.
Half of those starters are on an offensive line that helped the Clippers rush for 252 yards per game last season.
“I think we can be a lot better than we were last year,” senior lineman Max Moore said. “I think we grew a lot as a team and we are really close with each other. We are a really hard-nosed football team.”
Brezina should benefit from the Clippers’ returning experience up front.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior burst onto the scene last year rushing for 1,010 while averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
Brezina eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times and averaged better than 134 yards on the ground over the final four games last season.
“The coaches have talked to us about never being satisfied no matter what it is,” Brezina said. “We just have to keep going, we want to win a playoff game but we want to do more than that and be the best we can be.”
The Clippers must replace departed senior quarterback Robby Swails and will turn to senior Ashton Carpenter (6-0, 175) and junior Dylan Sheely (6-1, 170) to fill that role.
Carpenter played running back and receiver last season while Sheely completed 5-of-18 passes for 31 yards last season as a sophomore.
“The good part is that we have two that are good, we have Ashton and Dillon and they are battling right now, they are taking equal reps,” Matt Hughes said. “I think both of them have a great arm, I think they both have great leadership capabilities and both of those guys give us a good opportunity to complete some passes and to move the ball another way than our three-back running set.”
The Clippers will have options on offense in addition to Brezina.
Senior Jared Eckrich (5-11, 170) rushed for 348 yards last season and senior receiver Cory Siders (6-0, 195) led the Clippers with 10 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“To have a running back like Drake you are always going to put a lot on his shoulders but I think what we have this year is we have some very good wide receivers and we have about three or four very good backs,” Matt Hughes said. “I don’t think anyone is going to be able to key on him because if you key on him then we have five other guys that can hurt you.”
Defense has been a trademark of the Hughes-led Clear Creek Amana teams and this year should be no different.
Three of the top five tacklers from last year’s team return in Carpenter, Eckrich and senior lineman Ethan Taylor.
“Something that our coaches have talked about is when they first got here they wanted to turn the program around and they said let’s try to win games and then let’s try to win a district championship and then it was let’s try to win a playoff game,” Carpenter explained. “This year coach (Mark) Mitchell said something that we have never talked about is let’s try to win it all. We’ve never had that mentality it’s always been about little steps and I think that’s something we are looking forward to and I don’t see why we can’t go to the dome this year.”