HYDE — The Clearfield football team is coming off a record-setting season that saw it score more points than any squad in program history. The Bison had the ninth undefeated regular season in program history and were 12-0 before falling to eventual PIAA Class 4A champ Cathedral Prep in the PIAA playoffs.
But the Bison lost career passing yardage leader Isaac Rumery, who is now playing for Penn State, as well as 1,000-yard running back Caleb Freeland, near-1,000-yard receiver Taye Lynch, who had 996, and a group of six players that anchored the offensive and defensive lines. So there are a lot of holes to fill.
“It’s a good problem to have because you want to have kids like the kids we lost,” Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko said. “You want to have the opportunity to have the success that we’ve had down through the years with those types of kids. We’ve been blessed with a lot of great players and it becomes a task of replacing them every year.
“It’s been an ongoing process. We have a lot of potential with the kids we have back. There are a lot of kids that have waited their turn to play. They’ve worked hard and now we get to see how they perform.”
The cupboard is far from bare, however, as the Bison return 16 letterwinners, including a pair of 1,000-yard performers in senior running back Brett Zattoni, who piled up 1,062, and junior receiver Jake Lezzer, who had 46 catches for 1,036 yards.
“You have a 1,000-yard back and a 1,000-yard receiver, so you look at those two kids who have performed at a high level and you want them to continue to do that,” Janocko said. “That definitely takes a lot of pressure off our youth.”
“I feel that personally I do need to step up and take on more of a leadership role,” Lezzer said. “I’ve really been working on that.”
Clearfield also can lean on some experience and talent on the offensive line, led by three-year starter Alan Myers and all-state lineman Quentin Bloom.
“You have to build around your lines,” Janocko said. “And we obviously have some talent there. We are going to build around those two kids.”
Joining Bloom and Myers as returning letterwinners who saw some time at the line of scrimmage last season are seniors Garrett Becker, Ian Heitsenrether and Trevor Wain and juniors Matt Bailor and Zane Inguagiato.
“Those guys are amazing,” Lezzer said. “Coach (Myles) Caragein and Coach (Dave) Domico put in a lot of work with them and they really work hard and are really talented.”
“Ian Heitsenrether had a great year at defensive end and now he’s going to help us on both sides of the ball,” Janocko said. “Zane’s a junior now and we’ll see how he performs. Garrett Becker, Trevor Wain and Matt Bailor and Alex Owens have all waited their turn.
“Some of those kids have played a lot and some are waiting to play and the key is to see how they jel together as a unit.”
Myers feels the line is coming along well and already starting to come together as a unit.
“The line is absolutely important,” he said. “We have a lot of guys back this year and we’re going to be good. But our skill guys are going to be good too. They always are.
“I think we’re ahead of the game. We know what we’re doing and don’t need to take too much time to look over stuff.”
The line will be looking to open holes for Zattoni as well as returning letterwinners Jason Plubell and Mark McGonigal, who will look to replace Freeland’s production in the backfield.
In the receiving corps, Lezzer will be joined by a number talented players, who he believes are starting to come into their own.
“My teammates Matt Pallo and Karson Kline have been doing an amazing job,” Lezzer said. “Ian Billotte, Logan Firanski ... all those guys are doing an amazing job. We’ve been working since February and it’s really coming together now.”
“All those kids played some last year but those are kids who we need to step up now and make some plays,” Janocko said.
Janocko also thinks junior letterwinner Nick Domico could be a big part of the offense at tight end.
“We’re hoping that he can turn into something pretty special,” Janocko said.
The task of replacing Rumery at quarterback falls to 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore letterwinner Oliver Billotte, who started at linebacker as a freshman and did see limited reps under center.
“He’s a presence, there’s no question,” Janocko said. “He’s a great kid, a hard worker. He does all the right things and carries himself very well. But he’s going to make mistakes. You have to have patience. Those mistakes will be because of inexperience. But he did play last year as a linebacker, so he’s not new to varsity football. Oliver has a lot of potential.”
Lezzer also sees that potential.
“He was under Isaac last year and Isaac really worked with him a lot so Oliver is really ahead of the game,” Lezer said. “I’m 100 percent confident in him.”
Many of the same names that will star on offense will be counted on to make plays on the defensive side of the ball as well, especially on the defensive line.
“Bookends (Myers and Heitsenrether) are back and they will be able to frame up our defense.” Janocko said. “We have some kids that play on the offensive line that we’re going to rotate inside on defense. Another kid that is having a good camp is Gavin Mills at defensive end. And Seth Miller is a big kid who is going to see a lot of time at defensive end and help us out on the offensive line.
“Some of those kids have some good size, it’s just a lack of experience right now. They may start out a little slow, but I think as the season progresses, we can turn into a pretty good football team.”
There are also several kids back at linebacker and a few new faces that Janocko thinks will have an impact.
“Trevor Wain is one of those program kids. He’s a kid that we’re really looking forward to stepping up as a senior,” Janocko said. “Zattoni, Domico, Oliver, (Matt) Bailor, (Jose) Alban make up the linebacking core. We are hoping they step up and have a great year.”
The secondary will be led by Lezzer and patrolled by many of the same kids that will work as skill players on offense, including Kline, Pallo, Firanski, Plubell and Ian Billotte.
Returning to handle the placekicking and kickoff duties is Zach Hess, who converted 70 of 76 PATs last season and added a field goal. Graeson Graves, who also serves at the Clearfield boys soccer team’s keeper, will take over the punting duties.
“Those are two good kids that we’re really excited about,” Janocko said. “We’re happy that Graeson has joined us, and Zach did a heck of a job last year and he has improved. His leg is stronger, and his placekicking was always good, but now he’s getting some more loft on the ball.”
Goals for the Bison, who have now enjoyed 23 consecutive winning seasons, remain the same.
“Winning season. We want to get to six wins,” Janocko said. “After that we just want to keep working hard and make the playoffs. And we want another Mountain League title and go on and make a playoff run. But we want that winning season first, and it’s a tough league.
“We’re going to be playing a lot of young kids, so we’re going to take our lumps initially. We are going to have three or four sophomores starting. So we are going to have a lot of young kids out there. And we are going to have a lot of first-time juniors starting. It’s going to take some time. But I think as time goes on, we’ll be a good football team.
“I’m excited. I’ve had a lot of fun so far with this team because there is so much teaching going on. And I am excited about the possibilities.”
Clearfield opens its season this evening, hosting DuBois at the Bison Sports Complex. Clearfield defeated the Beavers 28-3 in last year’s season opener.