After missing most of last year with a knee injury, Bryan Marmolejo is ready to take the field for his final season at Clear Creek Amana.
“Last year during the third quarter of the first game, I blew out my knee and was out until the last game,” Marmolejo said. “It was pretty awful being on the sideline and not being able to help my teammates out.”
As a sophomore, Marmolejo spent most of the season playing outside linebacker and split time between outside linebacker and running back during his limited playing time as a junior. This season he expects to play right guard and alternate between defensive end and outside linebacker on defense.
“I’m more of a defensive player. I like to hit people. I don’t like being the one who gets hit,” Marmolejo said.
Marmolejo is aware of the challenge ahead of him with his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame.
“I’m really undersized, I won’t lie about that,” he said. “But size isn’t the only thing that matters as long as a player has heart and attitude he can play whatever he wants.”
The Clippers will be led by first-year head coach Matt Hughes, who played linebacker at Iowa from 1994-98. The Eastland, Texas, native also had a brief stint with the San Francisco 49ers under coach Steve Mariucci. Hughes has coached at the high school level in Texas and Illinois and has spent time at West Branch and Regina since moving back to Iowa five years ago.
The players feel that Hughes’ experience at the high school, college and professional levels help to make him a well-rounded coach.
“I think Coach Matt is great. He really tries to understand his players,” Marmolejo said. “If you look at him you’d know he’s been coaching for quite a while.”
Hughes is coaching alongside his father, Ronnie. Together they have nearly 50 years of coaching experience. The Clear Creek Amana coaching staff is rounded out by former Hawkeyes Mitch King, Josh Koeppel and Mikkel Brown as assistants.
“I just buy into everything they say,” senior Jon Nzombo said. “I try to work my tail off for them and for my team and hopefully we have a great winning season this year.”
Nzambo feels that Hughes’ calm coaching demeanor has been effective for the team.
“He’s not really a yeller. He’s calm with us and he’s very patient,” Nzombo said.
Nzombo, who also is a senior, expects to have a big season. As a junior running back, he led the Clippers with 629 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 124 carries. At defensive end, he recorded 33 total tackles, including six solo tackles for loss and two solo sacks.
Eliminating the small errors from last season will be the key to success for this Clippers squad this fall.
“I think the team just needs to focus,” Nzombo said. “Last year we made a lot of mistakes jumping off the ball, the little mistakes. The coaches this year are doing a great job of trying to fix the little mistakes. They told us the little mistakes change the game.”
Clear Creek Amana finished 4-5 last season with two losses by seven points or fewer. But Hughes has implemented a new system that will emphasize the running game as opposed to the more pass-heavy, spread style of the past. He has been impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“They’ve made huge strides as a team and hopefully it will show up on Friday nights,” Hughes said.
The players also have been able to transition into the new system without much difficulty.
“I feel like the team and the line have done a good job of adjusting,” Nzombo said. “Even the coaches have said that we’re much further in the system than they’ve expected.”
This fall, Nzombo expects to juggle time between running back and outside linebacker. He has the size and speed — 5-8, 175 pounds — to play well at running back but he knows that none of it would be possible without strong play from his offensive line.
“This whole football team has worked hard but I want to give emphasis for my line,” Nzombo said. “They make everything happen. They make the holes open up. I just want to give a mention to them because they don’t get the credit the quarterbacks and running backs do.”
Although Nzombo and Marmolejo are focusing on the season ahead of them, both have thought of their plans after high school. Nzombo wants to go to college to study biomedical engineering and Marmolejo is interested in criminal justice. Both players said they would like to play at the collegiate level but realize that academics come first. However, both players said that if the opportunity presented itself, they would consider walking on at Iowa or Iowa State, which are among both of their top picks for colleges.
Even though college is important for both players, their focus is on the current season. Malmolejo is confident that Hughes’ new system will result in a successful season for the Clippers.
“There are a lot of doubters out there about our new systems and the players, but we’re here to prove those people wrong,” Malmolejo said. “We’re not here to have a rebuilding year, we’re here to have a really good season.”