New coach Brian Lane said Clover is “light years away” from where it was when he took over in January - in a good way - but the Wing-T-shirking Blue Eagles are still in the early stages of their spread offense transformation, one that probably won’t fill complete for a few years.
QB Garrett Miller returns with running back Semaj Lakin in the backfield, though they’ll line up next to each other now. Five big offensive linemen, four of them seniors, led by college prospect and center Garrett Lutz, will protect Miller as he throws to a group of new receivers that includes junior Hezekiah Massey and Lane’s son, Jaylin, who has been an extension of the coach on the field as far as explaining spread offense nuances.
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Clover gets four games against Gastonia, N.C.-based schools to start the season, giving them a month of game action largely sequestered from local eyeballs. The Blue Eagles ripped through a similar-looking schedule last season, giving them a launching pad into the second half of the season. They struggled in region play and barely squeaked into the playoffs thanks to a complicated tie-breaker, but in a five-team Region 4-5A, one win is potentially all that’s needed anyway.
Coach: Brian Lane, 1st year (85-41)
Assistant coaches: Steven Peeler, defensive coordinator; Devon Lowery, defensive backs; Jimmy Sutton, linbackers and safeties; Wilbur Pender, inside linebackers; Curtis Godwin, defensive line; Tony Cook, wide receivers; D.J. Jones, wide receivers; Steven Churm, offensive line; Wayne Williams, offensive line; Tony Ashmore, running backs.
Last season: 6-5, lost in the first round of the 5A playoffs
Last 5 years: 11-44, 1 playoff appearance
Playoff wins last 5 years: 0
Returning starters: 6 (4 offense, 2 defense)
Key number: 68 - the average number of passes Clover attempted each of the last three seasons. Safe bet the Blue Eagles top the number by at least the second game of the season under Brian Lane.
Key returning players: Sr. OL Garrett Lutz, Sr. K/P Nicolas Sciba, Sr. RB Semaj Lakin, Sr. QB Garrett Miller, Jr. WR Hezekiah Massey, Sr. DL Devin Chisholm, Sr. DL Kenshu Her, Fr. DB Josh Marr, Sr. DB Austin Gunnels, Soph. WR Zion Robbins, Soph. WR Jaylin Lane, Soph. LB Hayden Johnson, Sr. OL Jordan Sebert, Sr. OL Peyton Webster, Sr. OL Max Krashner.
Weakness: Nine new starters on defense mean that position group will likely be a weakness to begin the fall. Coordinator Steven Peeler has his work cut out, especially in the secondary where there aren’t many recognized play-makers. Clover needs defensive linemen Kenshu Her and Devin Chisholm to make an impact and underclassmen like Josh Marr and Hayden Johnson to grow up quickly.
Strength: Special teams could be Clover’s best unit heading into 2017, thanks in large part to Wake Forest-committed kicker Nicolas Sciba. His big leg should prevent Lane’s offense from ending drives in the opponent’s half without points, while also helping the defense by pinning opposing offenses with touchback kickoffs and towering punts.
Coachspeak: “That’s how I’ve always done it. Every play I send in is a pass and then the quarterback, I give him one job: he sees if the pass is there, if not I’ve got some run plays that he goes to. That’s what we do.”
August: 18 at Ashbrook (N.C.); 25 Forestview (N.C.)
September: 1 Hunter Huss (N.C.); 8 at South Point (N.C.); 15 Bye; 22 York; 29 at Nation Ford
October: 6 at Fort Mill; 13 Northwestern; 20 Rock Hill; 27 at Boiling Springs
- Opposing teams won 59 percent of their games in 2016 (73-51) and include nine playoff teams and one state champion (South Point, N.C.).