Steve Cooley enters his fifth season as coach of the Clarksville Generals with bigger numbers on the field and higher expectations off if.
Fielding a team with just 24 players in 2013, the Generals went 0-9 during the regular season, giving up an average of nearly 50 points a game while scoring an average of 10.
“We gave up too many points last year, and we struggled moving the ball,” Cooley said.
But the Generals won a first-round sectional game, so there wasn’t any quit in Cooley’s camp. Now the former Jeffersonville coach is tasked with building on that victory — and he’ll have a senior-laden, 42-player roster to do so.
“We have a very strong senior class,” he said. “We’ve had a great summer; we did nothing but work on fundamentals. “We learned a lot. We hope there’s carryover into the season.”
Leading that solid senior class is quarterback Wyatt Kissel (6 feet 4, 190 pounds), who had an injury-plagued junior year. He is joined in the backfield by senior running backs Nate Knight (5-7, 175) and Devin Grooms (5-9, 220), both trying to fill the quick shoes of the graduated Marquise Parrish.
“Our emphasis is on running the football,” Cooley said. “Up front on our offensive line we have to play well; they’ve got to hold up for us to be competitive.”
That line lost a good one to graduation in center Noah Edelman, but 6-1, 260-pound senior Isaac Neal is back to help anchor the unit.
And while the Generals may emphasize the run, Cooley has a wealth of senior wide receivers to give Kissel a chance to extend the field. Andrew Wright (5-9, 170), Marshall Helton (5-6, 120), Nick Jones (6-2, 185), Brent Potter (5-9, 170) and Justin Lind (6-0, 175) all are listed as wide receivers, but all will have to play on the defensive side as well.
“We don’t have the numbers; it’s a challenge week in and week out,” Cooley said. “Everyone is bigger than you and has depth.”
If the offense is charged with scoring more points, the defense has the challenge of keeping opposing teams out of the end zone. Though the defense lacks depth, the Generals have nine players who saw action last year.
And that thing Cooley said about the offensive line having to hold up for the Generals to be competitive? It’s also true of the defensive line.
Neal, Jones and Kissel — at defensive end — will be part of the pass rush, while defensive backs Knight, Wright, Helton and Potter will join linebacker Grooms in an experienced backfield.
“We’re an aggressive multiple-front defensive team,” Cooley said. “They will line up and be fundamentally sound.”
But the need for so many skill players to be on the field all the time points to the trouble smaller schools have.
“It’s hard for a small school to overcome a small class,” said Cooley, whose program had low player turnout in consecutive seasons, resulting in only five juniors and three sophomores being on the current squad.
So instead of building on four seasons of experience at the high school, Cooley has been working to revamp the middle school program that feeds into it. Since he still teaches at Jeffersonville, he relies on assistant coaches who are working in the Clarksville system.
“We’ve got good numbers in middle school and our freshman class; the future looks bright,” he said. “The assistant coaches at Clarksville are doing a good job.”
Still, numbers continue to be a problem for one of the smallest 2-A schools in the state.
“We’ve changed things to adapt to our personnel,” Cooley said. “What’s stopping us from taking it to the next level is injuries.”
But he remains optimistic about this season and beyond.
“There’s a huge upside to Clarksville football down the road,” he said. “We’re going to try to stay healthy and get after it.”
CLARKSVILLE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Steve Cooley (fifth season, 13-29)
Last season: 1-10 (lost to Paoli 54-12 in second round of Class 2-A sectional)
Outlook: The program has better numbers this year but still lacks depth, and avoiding injuries will be the key to a successful season. “We’ve got to stay healthy,” Cooley said. The Generals have won a sectional game in each of the past two seasons, so there’s no quit in them.
Player – Pos. – Ht. – Wt. – Cl.
Nate Knight – RB/DB – 5-7 – 175 – Sr.
Andrew Wright – WR/DB – 5-9 – 170 – Sr.
Wyatt Kissel – QB/DE – 6-4 – 190 – Sr.
Marshall Helton – WR/DB – 5-6 – 120 – Sr.
Nick Jones – WR/DE – 6-2 – 185 – Sr.
Brent Potter – WR/DB – 5-9 – 170 – Sr.
Justin Lind – WR/DB – 6-0 – 175 – Sr.
Devin Grooms – RB/LB – 5-9 – 220 – Sr.
Isaac Neal – OL/DE – 6-1 – 260 – Sr.
Date – Opponent – Time
Aug. 22 – at Trinity Lutheran – 7:00
Aug. 29 – *at Eastern Pekin – 7:00
Sept. 5 – *CHARLESTOWN – 7:00
Sept. 12 – *at Corydon – 7:00
Sept. 19 – *SALEM – 7:00
Sept. 26 – *at Silver Creek – 7:00
Oct. 3 – *BROWNSTOWN – 7:00
Oct. 10 – *NORTH HARRISON – 7:00
Oct. 17 – at Providence – 7:30
*-Mid-Southern Conference game