Injuries — both in frequency and severity — provided an unwelcome surprise for Clinton in 2012, and the Yellow Jackets hope they are on the opposite end of an unexpected season in ’13.
Coach Chris Dufrene had hoped to make another playoff run in 2012 after back-to-back second-round runs through Class 4A in 2010 (when they won a conference title) and ’11. But too many key injuries quickly changed the Yellow Jacket landscape in 2012.
Dufrene hopes things change again in ’13. In fact, he plans on it happening.
“We expect to surprise a lot of people,” he said.
Coaches from the 2-4A voted the Yellow Jackets to finish sixth in the preseason.
After a 54-32 opening win over Arkansas Baptist last fall, Clinton saw the injury bug bite in Week 2 against Highland. Ultimately the Yellow Jackets saw seven players’ seasons ended prematurely and, with those losses, their dreams for a return to the playoffs.
After a 62-0 shellacking of Marianna in Week 4 that leveled their record at 2-2, though, the Yellow Jackets lost their last six games by a combined 276-162, including Stuttgart, the conference champion that went on to win the state title, 39-6; and playoff teams Dollarway, 46-7; Newport, 68-28; Heber Springs, 42-20; and Lonoke, 55-28.
Seven starters from that squad return for Dufrene’s Wing-T offense. Six starters are back for the 4-3 defensive scheme.
Expected starters on offense include junior Fielder Dufrene (5-10, 150) at quarterback, senior Mason Speer (6-0, 195) and junior Stephen Sappington (6-0, 205) at running back, senior Wyatt Fletcher (6-0, 155) at wingback, junior Harrison Lester (6-0, 240) at fullback, senior Sam Phillips at receiver, junior Jace Bradley (6-0, 280) at center, senior Jonathan Hunter (6-0, 230) and sophomore Chase Cook at guard, and senior Kaleb Ward (6-3, 240) and junior Nick Sheets (6-0, 250) at tackle.
Defensively, the line will include junior Alex Clark (6-1, 260) at noseguard; and Sappington, junior Hyden Treece and sophomore Jesus Robles (6-0, 235) at defensive end. Linebackers will be seniors Caden Hickman (5-7, 185) and Drew Farmer outside, as well as Lester and junior Rex Fletcher (6-1, 185). The secondary will include junior Hunter Blanton (5-10, 140) and senior Robby Slack (5-8, 160) at defensive back; and Speer and junior Nathan Teague (5-11, 165) at the safeties.
Dufrene said the Yellow Jackets’ strengths this fall would be experience at the skill positions. In light of all the injuries last year, several players had to take the field earlier than anticipated. The major weakness to start the season will be an unproven offensive line.
He said Newport, Lonoke and Dollarway are good bets to advance to the playoffs again in 2013. The key game on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule, the coach said, would come in Week 5 when Southside Batesville visits Clinton.
“We need to win our first conference home game,” he said.