Coach: Mike Donnelly, third year, 13-8
Last Year: 7-3 (5-2, TCAL)
Forecast: The Eagles plan to utilize more of a spread option attack this season, and they are putting the ball in the hands of junior quarterback Josh Utter.
Utter rotated with junior Austin Achter on the Eagles’ junior varsity team in 2008.
“Josh has quick decision-making abilities and he’s a pretty good pocket passer,” Donnelly said. “He hasn’t looked too bad. You could tell he’s pressed a little bit to be perfect, but he’s picked up the system pretty quick. I look for good things out of Josh.”
Achter will alternate at running back, wide receiver and quarterback.
“He’s kind of our ‘slash,’ “ Donnelly said. “We like his toughness and his athleticism. He’s played quarterback and wideout, and we do think it’s unique that he can play quarterback at times. His versatility is going to be very important to our offense.”
Clay returns three starters on offense and six on defense. None of the Eagles’ returning starters earned all-league honors last year.
The returning players on offense are senior tackle Tom Crawford, senior guard Jake Carr and senior tight end Mike Ackerman. The top returning defenders are Ackerman at inside linebacker, senior inside linebacker Ryan Brandeberry, senior safety Mike Ganeus, senior end Nick Starker, Crawford at tackle and Achter at cornerback.
Clay’s tailbacks are Ganeus and junior Stefan Gaskins. They will try to make up for the graduation of second-team All-CL running back Mike Toth, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season.
“We’re got going to replace Toth,” Donnelly said. “We’re just going to try to fit our offense to our new guys and what they do best. They do a good job of reading their zone scheme. They have good quickness and they see the cutback well.”
The receivers are Achter and fellow juniors Bob Hoffman, Dominick Schull and Jimmy Dunsmore.
“They’re all very good precision route runners,” Donnelly said. “They understand the offense well and they can find the windows in the defense. I think they’re going to be good run-after-the-catch wide receivers.”
Clay’s top returning tacklers are Ackerman and Brandeberry, who was injured for part of the ‘08 season.
“Our biggest problem right now is a lot of inexperience and not a lot of varsity playing time,” Donnelly said. “Our skill kids are going to be good again, but it’s going to take a little bit to get used to playing at the varsity level. We’re counting on our senior offensive and defensive lines to hopefully carry the load a little bit.”
The defensive line will consist of Crawford, Starker and juniors Rex Carlo and Dylan Gore. The key losses on defense are nose tackle Ben Morrissey and second-team all-league safety Jay Hornyak.
Donnelly said Whitmer and Central Catholic are the teams to beat in the CL.
“We are looking to improve as the season goes on,” he said. “We don’t have the easiest of schedules, so we have to get ready early. We can’t afford to not improve each week and in every practice and in our non-league games.
“I expect us to compete. It’s not that we don’t have the talent to compete with the top teams in the City, we just don’t have the experience right now. The real challenge is overcoming the inexperience and not having had success against the top teams in the league.”
For Donnelly to bring his alma mater its first City League football championship, the Eagles are going to have to contend well against a lineup that includes Waite, Start, Central Catholic, Whitmer, St. John's, Rogers, and St. Francis. The Eagles start with three non-league match-ups against Northern Lakes League schools.