In the beginning, Dirk Ankerholz asks for trust.
He’s established the Clearwater football program as a winner by his third year coaching and now the challenge, fresh off an 8-2 season, is to maintain it. The answer, according to Ankerholz, is an overhaul.
Scrapped is the compact double-wing set in Clearwater’s backfield, replaced by a spread offense that incorporates — gasp! — throwing the football.
“Double-digit passing is going to become the standard, rather than the rarity,” Ankerholz said. “We’re still going to run the ball first, but I’ve already had a few people go, ‘I don’t know about this.’ But I believe this is truly a unique situation.”
Either Ankerholz will be praised for adapting, or criticized for tinkering. But he’s persuaded the only group that matters.
“We’re all on board with it because the new offense we’re using really fits the players we have more,” senior Colin Frickey said. “Last year we had bigger guys and we could move people and run the ball. Now we’re a bit more smaller and have more speed, so this fits our style better.”
But Ankerholz isn’t ignorant. He knows an offense replacing seven starters will sputter at times. Clearwater should be able to run with Johnny Becker and Dakota Vaughn, but to stay competitive, at least early, it will need something to fall back on.
“That’s why we’re really going to rely on the defense to carry us through,” Ankerholz said. “We believe in a defense-first mentality and we’ve got some athletes over there now. They’ve got a really good handle on the system.”
So if it comes down to defense whether Clearwater qualifies for the playoffs for the third time under Ankerholz, the squad remains optimistic.
“Our coaching staff has said that the defense we have this year is the fastest defense they’ve had in a long time here,” said Frickey, who anchors the defensive line. “It’s really promising. I think we can do some really great things this year with this group.”