Despite being a season opening non-league football game at Clay Memorial Stadium, the Eagles can prove two things with a win over Northview Friday night.
Clay can prove once again, as it has so many times, that in non-league competition against Northern Lakes League schools the Oregon high school is at par or above with the suburban schools that make up the NLL.
Last spring, the NLL turned down an application by Clay and Napoleon and decided to remain at eight teams — considered an ideal number for any conference.
But Clay and Napoleon school officials still believe that their schools and communities are the perfect demographic fit for the NLL.
Of course, when the Wildcats arrive in Oregon for the opener, which will be simultaneously internet broadcast on ToledoSportsRadio.com, Clay coach Mike Donnelly and his Eagles will be ready to play football and not brooding over the vote that kept their school out of the NLL.
Donnelly returns for his second year at his alma mater after his Eagles went 6-5 one season ago, 5-2 in the City League.
But Donnelly has more one his plate this year than being head football coach. He takes over as athletic director, a position he shares with softball coach Brenda Radabaugh after former AD Jim Jurski accepted a position as assistant principal at the high school.
“It’s a little hectic right now because I’m the athletic director, too,” Donnelly admits.
The Eagles hope to avenge their 26-3 loss to the Wildcats in last season’s opener, which was delayed to Saturday because of a Friday night lightning storm.
“We haven’t really talked about (revenge) a whole lot because we’ve been just focusing on one day at a time, to use a cliché,” Donnelly said. “What we’re really trying to pound into the kids’ heads is that we’re worried about us, and whoever is on the schedule is on the schedule. I’m sure there is a part of us that wants to atone for last year’s poor display.”
Northview graduated four-year star running back Casey Meredieth, who was a major force in the Wildcats’ win over Clay. Northview went 4-6 last year, but Meredith missed 75 percent of the season.
Donnelly expects to see a completely different look from Northview coach Eric Keller’s squad this season.
“Obviously, it’s the season opener for both of us. I know they are running some different things because they’ve lost quite a few of their players,” Donnelly said.
“I know for us, we’ve got a lot of experience back, so it’s going to be a good test for us to see where we’re at. When you’re playing an NLL school, you know you’re always going to be in for a good game.”
Donnelly says that doing well in the first five games of the season — the Eagles follow Northview with Anthony Wayne and Springfield — will be "paramount" to Clay's success this season.
"Those are our five biggest games," the coach said. "I think last year, with the change in philosophy on offense and defense, we struggled the first couple weeks but we got better as the year went on. This year, from Week 1, we have to be ready to go and hopefully we can get come momentum going into the City League."
The Eagles, who fell to Start in the Hall of Fame Game to end the 2007 season, return seven starters on offense and six on defense.
On offense, senior Drew Kuns returns at quarterback after earning honorable mention All-CL honors last season. Kuns, who holds the school record for completion percentage (65 percent) in a season, threw just one interception last year.
"We're looking at him to pick up right where he left off," Donnelly said. "We don't have Nick Tammerine this year so we will have to be more balanced this year, mixing the run and the pass, and he's going to be a big part of that."
Tammerine rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and earned first-team all-league honors at tailback. He is now running track at Notre Dame. Replacing Tammerine in the backfield will be senior Mike Toth.
"He fits very well into our zone offensive scheme," Donnelly said. "He's a very patient runner. Once he sees the hole, he explodes through it. He's going to be very good for us this year. He's the type of back who just carries people. He had a good scrimmage against Sandusky."