Rockets’ Thomas Cluckey wants to keep starting job

J. Patrick Eaken

The Mid-American Conference announced on Friday that its 2020 football season will begin on Wednesday, Nov. 4. 

This affects six athletes who play for Bowling Green and Toledo, including two Falcons — 6-foot-3, 240-pound redshirt freshman defensive lineman Andrew Bench (Genoa) and 5-11, 220 pound redshirt freshman linebacker Justin Schiets, a Woodville native who went to Central Catholic.

It also affects four Toledo players — 5-9, 195-pound sophomore kicker D.J. Wellons (Woodmore), 5-11, 191-pound freshman safety Jaden Rayford (Eastwood), 6-2, 265-pound redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dalton Andrews (Eastwood) and 6-1, 175-pound sophomore place kicker Thomas Cluckey (Clay). 

Cluckey began his freshman season handling kickoffs...By the end of the season, he had added field goals and punting to his duties. Cluckey averaged 60.6 yards per kickoff, with 31 touchbacks in 62 attempts.

“I started off at fall camp, won the kickoff job but unfortunately did not win the field goal job. I started off doing kickoffs the first three games and come BYU, our punter Bailey Flint had a terrible ankle injury. He tore a bunch of ligaments on his ankle, so they threw me in to punt, and I ended up punting the rest of the season,” Cluckey said.

After Flint was injured in late September against Brigham Young, Cluckey took over, averaging 42.1 yards per punt. He nailed a season-best 64-yard punt at Bowling Green.

Next, Cluckey took over the placekicking duties in week 11 at Buffalo, hitting 3-of-3 field goals with a long kick of 41 yards versus the Bulls. He was also 4-of-4 on extra points.

“That first game going in to punt was surreal because I really did not expect having to do that. But, eventually I got used to it. I was so used to it doing it in high school — I did all three over at Clay,” Cluckey said. “The (BYU game on national television last year) was quite an experience, definitely.”

The league’s 12 schools will play a six-game schedule of league games that will culminate with the MAC Championship Game at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Dec. 18 or Saturday, Dec. 19. There was one game in particular Cluckey was looking forward to that will not be on the schedule now.

“I was really looking forward to the Michigan State game obviously, but that is not going to happen now,” Cluckey said.

A standout soccer player at Clay, Cluckey first began learning how to kick footballs at age 17.  A couple years later, he’s an NCAA Division I kicker.

“Honestly, I pretty much learned by myself watching YouTube videos in high school, and I got into it that way,” Cluckey said. “My experience at Clay was a short-lived thing because I only played my senior year. It was awesome that coach Galyas trusted me and gave me the opportunity because he didn’t even know me. All he knew about me was that I was a soccer player. He trusted me to go in and do field goals, punt for him and kick off for him.”

He still boots a soccer ball around now and then, but during the pandemic, he spends most of his time bonding with his teammates, including Wellons.

“First of all, the other specialists, the other kickers and specialists that we have, we’ve created kind of lifelong bonds that we have, and that’s just within the last year,” Cluckey said.

“We’re always hanging out with each other, we’re always together. Then obviously, the other position groups we also bond with all the time because of the amount of time that we’re spending at football on a normal spring or normal fall, or normal summer. Without this virus thing we’d be together 24/7. It’s all competition, but at the end of the day we’re friends, we’re brothers.”

Cluckey says he has to stay on top of his kicking game, even during a pandemic.

“We’re back to working out right now, but it’s pretty limited. They had us wearing masks while we are working out and we got back into that in July,” Cluckey said before they returned to practice. 

“I’m working out on my own whenever I can. My roommate is one our long snappers so I work with him a lot. Occasionally, we could get into the stadium at UT, but if not they actually have some pretty nice grass fields on campus that we can always get onto.”

Wellons was not always known just for his place kicking, earning first team All-Northern Buckeye Conference as a defensive back and second team all-league as a wide receiver playing for then-coach Lou Bosh. However, he was also an honorable mention all-district kicker and punter, plus he played basketball and baseball.

Once the new schedule is set and the season begins, no general public attendance or tailgating will be allowed at MAC football games.  The participation of marching band, dance, cheer and spirit squads at football games will be guided by conference protocols at institutional discretion consistent with public health guidance.

“Our medical advisory group, presidents, directors of athletics, and others, have worked hard to develop a plan that provides the opportunity for student-athletes to compete. We will be diligent in monitoring the dynamic health environment across the Conference footprint and the country,” said MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher. 

A complete 2020 MAC Football schedule and other details with respect to the season will be announced at a later date, according to Steinbrecher. All other fall sports such as women’s volleyball, soccer and cross country will be played next spring. Schedules for those sports will be announced at a later date.




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