Clearwater football has a plan to “keep the streak” alive as it enters the 2016 season. While the end result – making the playoffs again – is still the goal, the method will hopefully change.
“We hope to get off to a little faster start than we have in the last couple of years,” coach Dirk Ankerholz said.
The past two seasons have seen the Indians suffer five consecutive losses before earning their first win. But they’ve also managed to turn the season around, earning playoff spots both times despite losing records.
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Starting 0-5 for two consecutive seasons wasn’t exactly the Indians’ plan, and it’s not something they would like to do again, even if it means another late-season push and playoff bid.
“There’s always dissatisfaction when you lose that many games to start a season,” senior Collin Ellis said. “I know part of it was a tough schedule, but part of it was that we have young guys and it takes them time to figure out what to do.”
There isn’t one, lone reason for the slow start followed by a late-season surge. Early season, non-conference opponents have been larger, more successful programs that were generally better than the conference teams Clearwater faced later in the season. The Indians also tend to start younger players, and typically an underclassman’s contribution to the team in the last five weeks of the season is far better than his first five weeks of varsity competition.
“Sophomores have a long way to go when they start the season,” Ankerholz said. “By about mid-season you can start to count on those guys coming around, and that’s what we’ve seen.”
Ellis said he knows that experience first-hand. He was once the young player among the freshmen and sophomores who were thrown into live, varsity action before having a chance to experience it from the sidelines.
“I remember my sophomore year was like that. It seemed like I was making mistakes every play,” he said. “But in the long run that’s helped us now because we have guys that have been playing for a long time and they know what to expect.”
Ellis is one of the veterans returning who hope to make an impact earlier and change the trend of slow starts at Clearwater. The senior running back rushed for almost 1,000 yards a year ago, and hopes remain high for the Indians, who will face almost an entirely new slate of non-conference opponents.
Ankerholz admitted that facing strong programs early in the year did establish a learning, toughening-up process for his teams. But new opponents in 2016 could give his team more confidence early on.
“My preference is toward having games that we’re in every week,” he said. “Otherwise you’re in a position where you’re starting sophomores and you can get two, three, four guys hurt and that can prevent you from making a run.”
Though Ankerholz has navigated his teams through the adversity to land playoff spots the past two seasons, there remains the risk of becoming a program known for posting more losses than wins.
“If you’re starting out 0-5 every year, your numbers are going to dwindle,” Ankerholz said. “There is a perception that 7-3 and not making the playoffs is better than 3-7 and making the playoffs.”
Or the Indians could establish a new tradition of winning and earning a postseason bid with some reliable key players returning in 2016. Ellis will lead the offensive attack once again at running back after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago.
Ankerholz said the quarterback position is still up in the air, but Ellis will rely on his offensive line, especially running behind 6-1, 285-pound senior Brady Helton.
“He’s athletic, and he’s a guy who can move really well for as big as he is,” Ellis said.