By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– When the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Clippers varsity football team takes the field Friday, Sept. 30, to open the 2013 season, there will be a host of new faces on the sidelines. For the first time in seven years, Rodney Walls won’t be leading the men in blue and white. Walls resigned after the 2012 season, which saw the Clippers improve to a 4-5 record from 2011’s 0-9 showing.
The lead role went to Matt Hughes, who took over the program in March. Hughes brings a mix of high school and college coaching experience to the sideline, including working under Iowa City West High coach Brian Sauser last year, spending a season with the Solon Spartans, and as part of the coaching staff at the University of South Dakota. Hughes was a three-year starter for legendary coach Hayden Fry at the University of Iowa as an inside linebacker.
For Hughes, taking on his new role at CCA fulfilled a long-held dream of being a head coach. Another dream fulfilled was installing his dad, Ronnie Hughes, as co-head coach. The senior Hughes has more than 40 years of coaching experience and coached Matt in high school. Assisting the duo will be Duane Matthess, Kyle Stoner, Matt Trosky, Chris Gilstrap, Josh Koeppel, Mitch King, Jake Sedlacek and Mark Dalton.
A new season, new coaching staff and a new system all add up to a challenge for both Hughes and the team. “You’re starting from ground zero, it’s a blank slate,” he said. “We don’t know the kids real well yet, we don’t really know what they’re capable of. It’s tough, it’s a challenge.”
It’s also an opportunity.
“We’ll have a balanced attack. We’ll throw when we need to and we’ll run the ball when we need to,” said Hughes. This is a departure from previous seasons, when the Clippers relied heavily on the passing game. Hughes was quick to point out changing the system in no way reflects on Walls or his assistants. “He put together a great program,” Hughes said. “When you’re a coach, you’re always learning. I’ve learned from coach Fry, coach Sauser and others. There are certain things I’ve taken from all of them that’s made me a better coach.”
While Hughes, like any coach, wants to put as many wins in the book as possible, his first priority is to, “…create good people.” Football, he said, teaches many life skills and can be a valuable tool in character development. “They’ll walk away knowing football, but they’ll also be contributing members of society; that’s priority number one.” Hughes said he and his staff put a lot on the kids about responsibility. “It’s a privilege to be on the team,” he added.
The coaches emphasize what it means to be a good person and what it means to be granted the privilege to wear the blue and white.
“We’ll work with the kids that buy in,” Hughes said. Those who don’t won’t be with the team for very long. However, Hughes doesn’t see that happening, nor does he anticipate any ego issues. “We have a group of guys who play for the team first,” he said.
In addition to character building, Hughes and his coaching staff hammer the team on the fundamentals of football. “These guys aren’t used to winning a lot. They’ve been led well, but we feel we can take them to the next level,” said Hughes.
Looking ahead at the upcoming schedule, he said nobody can tell the future regarding who the Clippers might beat, or how far into the post season they may go. CCA last was in the play-offs in 2010, making it to the second round before Williamsburg ended their season. But, “the kids are working hard. They’re doing a tremendous job and are putting themselves into a position to capitalize on opportunities, said Hughes. “There is no better feeling as a coach than to see when that light goes on.”
The Clippers lost 13 players to graduation: Konrad Moore, AJ Liddell, Josh Martinac, Aaron Campbell, Kam Kahler, Zach Anderson, Niels VanElsas, Jake Swenka, Nick Strasser, Tanner Martinson, Tony Pederson, Zach Smith and Beau Gerard. Moving up are nine seniors: Jon Nzombo, Bryan Marmolejo, Andrew Beckler, Tyler Kasper, Miguel Mosaquites, Eli Lee, Connor Mougin, Austen Parris and Tim Mardesen. Nzombo is a promising running back; Mougin is a linebacker while Beckler will be a key receiver. Hughes said the team has a pair of good, young quarterbacks in junior Nile Rourke and sophomore Robby Swails. 17 juniors fill-out the ranks with one sophomore, Aaron Akers, in the varsity mix.
“Our strengths are our athletes,” Hughes said. “We’ve got a great group of wide receivers and defensive backs and our skilled positions are fantastic.” At the same time, only having nine seniors means the bulk of the team is lacking in varsity experience. To compensate, the coaches are putting great emphasis on developing the offensive and defensive lines with two coaches assigned specifically to each line. “The ingredients are here to build a very successful program. As coaches we have to give them every opportunity possible to be successful,” said Hughes.
The Clippers open on Friday, Aug. 30, on the road against Independence. Last year, CCA slapped the Mustangs around 35-7 at home, earning the right to ring the brass bell from the USS King, which stands just outside the Clipper stadium. Rather than worrying about the district as a whole, Hughes is focusing on Independence first, and then he’ll worry about the rest, including Solon. The Spartan conditioning program is a blueprint, Hughes said, for the strength and conditioning his crew has been undergoing since March.
Hughes said the Clipper parents have been very supportive and complimentary since he came aboard. Parental support is vital not only for the individual athlete, but the program as a whole. “They’ve all been great,” Hughes said in a time of transition. Giving another nod to Walls, Hughes said, “I have the utmost respect for Rodney (Walls), Bob Broghammer, Anthony Walls and the rest of them. We’re not walking into a bad program here.” Hughes said a new coach usually comes in when a program is in trouble, and often with troubled or troublesome kids. “That’s not the case here. The kids are respectful. They’re working their butts off. That’s a true credit to Rodney.”
The bottom line for Hughes boiled down to this: “I believe in these kids and I want them to have the best opportunity,” he said.
CCA 2013 varsity football schedule
Aug. 30: AT Independence
Sept. 6: HOME Vs. Mid-Prairie,
Sept. 13: HOME Vs. Benton Community
Sept. 20: AT Solon
Sept. 27: HOME Vs. Fort
Oct. 4: AT Central Clinton,
Oct. 11: AT Anamosa
Oct. 18: HOME Vs. Marion
Oct. 25: HOME Vs. Maquoketa