The last game of Clarkdale’s 2020 regular season was supposed to be at Southeast Lauderdale with a trip to the MHSAA Class 3A playoffs on the line.
That game never happened, as COVID-19 protocols forced Clarkdale to forfeit its contest against the Tigers and denied them the possibility of a playoff berth, which would have been the school’s first since 2003.
“We were just disappointed knowing we were right there, and then it gets taken away from you,” senior center Alec McIlwain said. “All the hard work, and you don’t get the payoff.”
It’s been on the minds of Clarkdale’s returning players as the Bulldogs prepare for the 2021 season, and McIlwain said he hopes the bitterness of last year’s finish gives him and his teammates a mental edge this fall.
“It drives us,” McIlwain said. “We know we have the ability to be good and be better than last year, so we kind of have a chip on our shoulders.”
Teammate Evan Gant, a senior tight end and defensive lineman, said the thing that made forfeiting that final game against Southeast Lauderdale so frustrating was how powerless everyone felt when it happened.
“It’s diminishing to put in all that hard work and have something take it away from you and there not being anything you could do about it,” Gant said. “You hurt for the seniors, and that’s not something you want to experience, because you have no control over it.”
Clarkdale football coach Jason Soules said summer workouts went well, and he’s hopes the team can avoid any COVID-related issues after having them end their season a year ago.
“We’ve had pretty good turnout all summer long,” Soules said. “Everyone is trying to rebound from COVID, and we’re just trying to keep our kids safe and keep them on the practice field and hopefully not have any problems all year long.”
McIlwain said he also thinks summer workouts were productive.
“We’ve been able to get some good practices in,” McIlwain said. “As a team, we’ve bonded better, and that will let us have better chemistry.”
Soules said he senses the bitter ending last year as still being on the minds of his players, but he said it will take more than that to put together a special season.
“It’s a motivator when your last game is the biggest one of the season because it shows that you have some positive things you can achieve,” Soules said. “We did lose a lot on defense, but that’s going to happen every year. We’re excited. We have the core of our team back, so if everything works like it should and we stay healthy, we have an opportunity to be very competitive.”
The good news is there’s plenty of experience on the team even with the departures on defense due to graduation, Soules said.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who have basically started since they were freshmen, so they’ve done a good job, and now we just have to take all that experience and get after it on Friday nights,” Soules said.
The biggest key, Gant said, is everyone buying into showing up every day ready to work.
“The work ethic will have to change,” Gant said. “We’ll have to work a lot harder. No one person can be doing more than the other guys; everyone will have to put in the work. It’s going to have to be a team effort.”
If that happens, Gant said this year’s Bulldogs team has a high ceiling.
“We can make it far,” Gant said. “We have a lot of older guys, starters who have seen playing time since their freshmen years, so it’s a lot of experienced guys.”
Aug. 27 — at Ethel
Sept. 3 — Stringer
Sept. 10 — St. Patrick
Sept. 17 — at Sebastopol
Sept. 24 — Sacred Heart
Oct. 1 — at Forest
Oct. 8 — Morton
Oct. 15 — at Enterprise
Oct. 22 — at Union
Oct. 29 — SE Lauderdale