CLEARFIELD — They ran, ran and ran some more.
It was the end of practice, the temperature was hovering near 95 degrees with hazy sunshine and the Clearfield football team was finishing its practice with some gasser runs.
Head coach Andre Dyson’s voice echoed throughout. “I want to win!” he said. “I’ve been ready for five years!”
The Falcons went 5-5 overall and 2-4 in Region 1 last year. They started the year 3-1 and by October were in the middle of the region’s complicated playoff race.
Needing a win in their final two region games, Clearfield was outscored by Fremont and Syracuse by a combined 73-21 and missed the postseason.
Dyson says the pressure was too much for a lot of the players and they didn’t play well later in the season.
To fix that, the coaches changed how they approached practice and put the team in more football situations than in the past.
“We make everything a competition, everything has a score, every play has a meaning, every rep is important. We’ve done more camps than we have in the past. We’ve scrimmaged against other teams more than we have in the past,” Dyson said.
Clearfield is going to be a young team this year — not as young as Northridge, but still young — so Dyson said there will be some growing pains. But he’s excited about the team’s prospects, particularly on the offensive line and skill positions.
One of the few returning players is running back/safety Ethan Jones, the team’s leading returning rusher (66 carries, 344 yards, two touchdowns last year). He said last year’s team was pretty close-knit, which is one of the keys for this year’s group.
“I think we need to band together as a team. Everybody needs to be a unit, definitely (work) harder,” Jones said.
Senior quarterback Mitch Reed says the coaches have emphasized finishing. Finishing practice (coaches were yelling at anyone who started jogging at the end of their runs), finishing games, finishing runs, finishing everything.
With a mostly new offense this year, the approach Reed is taking as a first-year varsity quarterback is simple.
“Getting four or five yards every play is going to make you successful. You don’t have to get that 82-yard touchdown every play,” Reed said.
Dyson did take a positive out of last season’s end. For the first time as Clearfield head coach (2018 will be his fifth season), the Falcons were playing in meaningful games at the end of the year.
It’s a far cry from where they were three years ago: 0-10 and outscored 405-63. The 5-5 record last year represented the first season since 2004 where Clearfield finished .500 or better.
The coaches changed a lot about how they run practice, making everything a competition and somewhat focused on a score. The goal is to get the players used to a competitive atmosphere.
Key stretch: Games against Northridge and Layton are back-to-back in late September, preceding the Falcons’ bye week. The bye week precedes a brutal finish to the season against Syracuse and Fremont, so Clearfield will need to get into their bye week strong.
Trending up: Three years ago, Clearfield went winless. Since then, the Falcons’ win total has increased, up to two wins in 2016 and five last season.