By Ben Murphy
Six straight Jack Pine Conference Titles, seven straight trips to the post-season and a district championship in 2012. 26th year Clare football head coach Kelly Luplow knows a good team when he sees one.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where you can’t wait to start playing somebody else to see how good you really are. When you’re playing against each other it’s hard to give everything you’ve got. When you start playing against an opponent you start to see where your strengths and weaknesses are.”
Last year the Pioneers overcame an 0-2 start to the season with seven straight JPC wins and added two more wins in the playoffs over Roscommon and Standish-Sterling before falling to Menominee in the regional finals to end the year with a 9-3 record.
Returning to the team are seniors Bean Ramos (running back), Zach Tyler (quarterback- out for season with injury), Jordan Gross (running back), Colton Punches (quarterback), Chris Dysinger (running back), Logan Emery (running back), Nick Montini (defensive tackle), Lee Cole (defensive tackle), Joe McGUire (middle linebacker), Slade Davis (guard, defensive tackle), Bob Green (tackle), Doug Prince (tackle), Mark Ruby (tackle), Riley White (tackle), Josh Kinberg (tackle), Seth Harton (center), Josh Langlois (center, defensive end) and Kenny Smith (tight end).
“Gross (1111 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns last year) is going to be our key running back,” Luplow said. “Punches (expected to take over at quarterback for injured Tyler), even though it’s a new position for him he’s worked hard all summer. Most offenses go as your quarterback goes so if he has a good year we could have a good year. I hate to put pressure on him but that’s the nature of that position. Harton at center and Cole at guard, those guys we look for them to be leaders up front. Joe McQuire on defense is in his third year on varsity so we look for him to be a leader on that side of the ball. Hopefully these guys will lead us and teach the young kids how to do it and lead us every week, every game.”
New to the team is senior Emonte Wass (running back), junior Charlie Bugbee (running back, defensive back), Ryan Seiter (quarterback, wide receiver), Devin Ayers (running back), Zach Betzer (running back), Paul Cole (running back, linebacker), Kyler Zinser (tight end), Mike McGuire (tight end, linebacker), Devon Poet (center), Steven Bentley (guard), Tyler Gillespie (guard), Alyx Thayer (tackle), Kodie Kane (tackle), Brenden Hensley (tackle), Jay Poet (wide receiver), Joe Huston (wide receiver), Brenden Gyulveszi (tight end, linebacker) and sophomore Camden Dice (kicker).
“We have some good new lineman that I’m excited about seeing how they do and Huston at wide receiver, he’s fast and has great hands,” Luplow said of standout newcomers. “Hopefully we can get him the ball. If we do, that will be an advantage for us.”
With the talented cast of returning players and influx of new talent, Luplow isn’t ruling out another good season.
“Weith Ramos and Gross coming back in the backfield and our core group of guys up front we’re hoping that if we stay injury free we can repeat again,” he said. “But it’s all going to boil down to staying healthy and working together as a team.
It’s always been our goal to win the league and we figure if we do that we’ll be in the playoffs,” Luplow added. “We have a target on our back and I know every team wants to knock us off. I look for Meridian (to be strong), Gladwin has some good skill position players so if they put it all together they could be tough. Beaverton has been getting better and Harrison, we always have tough games with them and Farwell is a five-mile rivalry. There are some good coaches in this league that are getting their teams ready so we have to be ready every week.”
Not only would the coach like to win another JPC title and another good playoff run, he’d like to avenge Clare’s losses from last year too.
“We’d like to start the season a little better,” Luplow, referring their close losses to Freeland and Beal City in weeks one and two last year. “Of course we played two tough games so it certainly challenges us early in the season and that’s a good thing. Our guys are pretty goal oriented. They are going to give it everything they’ve got every week, I’m pretty sure of that.”
Clare opens its season Aug. 29 at Freeland. The Falcons topped Clare 10-7 last year and are coming off a 6-4 season.
“We have had some battles with them,” Luplow said. “Every year it seems like it comes down to the end of the game or a break here or break there determines the game either way. I look for it once again to be a close, hard fought game and I think it’s going to come down to special teams and turnovers. We have to secure the ball and make good decisions and our special teams have to play well if we’re going to beat a team with their quality.”