(Photo by Michael Fischer)
Clay Central-Everly's football team battled through its first season of 8-man this fall, depleted in numbers and coming off a winless 2011 campaign. The Mavericks went 0-9 again, while facing at least three teams ranked in the top-10 in the state.
They could have folded up shop near the end of the season. They could have dropped out of their varsity schedule before the year and just played JV. But the administrators, coaches and players wanted to take on the varsity schedule and keep football alive at CC-E, despite the lumps it would take this season.
"The kids knew it was going to be difficult," Austin Davis, head coach of CC-E for the past two seasons, said. "Some guys played every snap of every practice and every game of the season, and that wears on you. They came together as a team and football family and decided that no matter what they were going to stay together. And they did that. They approached it the right way."
Senior quarterback Chazz Brown led the team in offensive production -- carrying the ball 216 times for 921 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also completed 34 passes for 409 yards with five touchdowns. Brown took a lot of hits but played nearly every down.
"I'm glad for the experience and am happy we were able to finish it," Brown said. "It was tough, and at times you wanted to stop because there are other sports, but we wanted to finish what we started. We felt like we had to prove something."
The major obstacle for CC-E this year was the number of players on the roster. CC-E's Class of 2013, this year's seniors, has only six male students. Four played football -- Brown, Ty Hoffman, Colton Doran and Roman Fahnlander -- while the other two were unable to play due to medical reasons.
"One thing we're fighting is a low number of boys," CC-E athletics director Paul Wick said. "It wasn't that long ago I can remember there were 20 boys in a class. I think it's going to come back, but all of us have to double our efforts."
Wick says they expect numbers for next fall's football team to be in the low 20s, grades 9-12. The junior high team went 4-2 this fall and had over 20 participants.
This year's varsity roster started out with 18 players, but due to injuries in training camp and in games, a decision had to be made near the end of the season about continuing on. Down to 13 players and facing fifth-ranked M-M-C, school officials, coaches and players decided if they should continue with the final two games of the season.
"We had to look at the situation when we got down to 13," Wick said. "We met with everybody and the consensus was we started this, we're going to finish it."
Davis was impressed with the heart and character showed by the team all sesaon, and again during this decision.
"Near the end when we were down to 11-12 players, you have to put the kids' safety first," Davis said. "The players wanted to finish it out and showed a lot of heart."
"We wanted to finish what we started," senior Ty Hoffman said.
"We felt some pressure to try our hardest to get some wins and to keep football going here," Brown added. "We wanted to pave the way for future teams."
Rebuilding years happen every so often, regardless of school or sport. For CC-E, the support remained for the players and team from classmates and community as they cheered on the Mavs through nine winless weeks.
"The support is still there. We like our football," Wick said. "When you're not winning, it's tough to keep the fan support, but the kids and parents have been great."
Classmates and cheerleaders provided a needed boost throughout the year.
"They kept us going and supported us no matter what," Hoffman said of his high school classmates.
The end of the road is here for the four senior players but they will try and take something from this season, even if it wasn't any wins on the scoreboard.
Senior Colton Doran, who was forced to miss the final three games due to injury, said, "I think it will teach us a lot about life down the road. About keeping your head to the grindstone."
Brown added, "No matter how tough it gets, you can get through it."
And, again, to finish what you start.