The Clarence High School football team will have to wait before it gets a chance to play in front of its home fans in 2016. With a new turf field in the final stages of construction, the Red Devils have an uncommon schedule starting with four road games and ending with three at home.
When it’s finally completed, there’s no doubt the new facility will look great. And when the Red Devils finally get to take that field for real, they hope their division title hopes look just as great.
“Hopefully those last three games are big,” said senior Niko Mullen, last season’s team MVP. “We want to be playing for a championship. I want to set the bar high. I want to see us one or two in the division, that’s the plan.”
The new facility is a part of a $5 million project approved by voters in 2014 to install artificial turf on the football, baseball and softball fields among other improvements. If all goes to plan, Clarence will make its debut on the new field on Sept. 30 against rival Williamsville North.
“I’m pumped,” senior two-way lineman Russell Koberecki said. “I can’t wait to go on that field.”
The first two home games will not only be big from a community pride standpoint, they’ll have to be big if Clarence has any intention on competing for a Class AA title. After the home opener against the loaded Spartans, the Red Devils will face a strong Kenmore West team that reached Ralph Wilson Stadium a season ago.
But Clarence seems to have the tools to compete with the big boys in 2016. The Red Devils return five starters on each side of the ball from last year’s club that was 4-5 against a tough schedule and also gain a host of players from a junior varsity team that finished 8-2.
Early on in practice, the Red Devils like what they see.
“It’s encouraging,” Koberecki said. “We’re working well as a unit. Coach even said further ahead of the pace. Things are going well, running smoothly; we’re looking good out there so far. I’m excited.”
Mullen will be a key to the Red Devils with his versatility. After contributing more than 200 yards rushing and passing – as well as seven touchdowns – as a junior, he’s expected to be a standout at running back, wide receiver, safety and kicker as a senior. He headlines a deep group of skill players on Clarence’s 40-man roster, a group that also includes senior Brett Naylor, a three-sport star who also excels in hockey and lacrosse for the Red Devils.
The Red Devils are also excited about sophomore quarterback Jack Putney as well as junior Brendan Cimerman. Layer said both are expected to see some time under center this season.
“Our passing game is looking good,” Mullen said. “We have a lot of weapons on the outside and a lot of multi-positional players.”
Up front, Clarence is led by the senior Kobierecki, a force at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds and another senior in Sean Kloss, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds.
Defensively, the Red Devils will turn to a pair of solid linebackers in junior Jack Shaver and senior Zack Frey. In the secondary, Clarence is expecting big things from the cornerbacks Naylor and Mullen as well as junior strong safety Jake Reger.
When the multi-million dollar complex is finally complete, Clarence fans and alumni will no doubt be excited at what they see. But the current Red Devils are hoping the product on the field dwarfs the field itself. But it’s still August, so Layer and friends have their eyes set on the task at hand,
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Layer said. “That’s the first step and then we’ll take each step as it comes after that.”
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