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PREVIEW: Central Clarion Looking to Build on Strong Finish to 2021 After Tumultuous Start Due to Schedule Changes, Early Setbacks

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) – After a season of switching opponents and uncertainty of games being played, the 2021 Clarion Wildcats finished 4-6 overall, losing to Karns City in the opening round of the District 9 playoffs.

The 2022 edition of the Wildcats with head coach Dave Eggleton is hoping for a turnaround, even after losing 12 seniors to graduation.

“At this point we’re hoping to get through our first scrimmage and our first game, which would automatically be a drastic improvement over how last season started,” said Eggleton. “We lost a lot to graduation, but we feel we have a lot of talented people coming back who gained a lot of experience last season.”

One of the biggest returning players is quarterback Jase Ferguson, who will enter his sophomore season.

Ferguson completed 107 of 194 passes for 1,620 yards. He threw 18 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions as a freshman. He also rushed for four touchdowns.

“Jase has had a great offseason,” said Eggleton. “He’s probably put on about 20 pounds while I think he’s grown about two inches. He’s pushing 180 pounds now. I didn’t think he played like a freshman last season, especially toward the end of the season. He looks so much more mature than a sophomore. He does so much next-level stuff, like getting the guys in the right spots and making an audible if he feels there will be a better result. He’s one of those kids whom a defense can do everything right and he can still make them pay.”

Besides Ferguson at quarterback, other projected starters for the 2022 Wildcats include: Tyler Klugh, a senior who returns after a year off, at center. Jake Smith, a junior could also see time there. Returning starter Coleman Slater (Jr.) and Matt Alston (So.) with Owen Bauer (Jr.) also seeing time. Colby Wright (Jr.) returns at a tackle spot along with Jimmy Kerr (So.). Tommy Smith (Jr.) is expected to be the starting tight end. He caught 11 passes for 110 yards with one touchdown. Noah Naser (Jr.) is a returning fullback who gained 70 yards in six games played last season.

Eggleton feels he has a pretty fast group of players who could see time at the various running back spots.

Brady Quinn (Jr.) gained 24 yards on just four carries last year. Ryan Hummell (Sr.) gained 351 yards on 67 carries with four touchdowns. He also caught 21 passes for 144 yards with one score. Connor Kopnitsky (Sr.) is back after taking a year off.

Ashton Rex (Sr.) is back at a wide receiver spot. He caught 21 passes for 445 yards with five touchdowns last season. Dawson Hotchkiss (Sr.) caught three passes for 64 yards. Dawson Smail (Jr.) is back after a season off. Kohen Kemmer (So.), and Mason Burford (Fr.).

“Tyler Klugh is a really strong, athletic kid at center,” said Eggleton. “At guard we have Coleman Slater and Matt Alston. Slater is a tough kid while Alston is a young kid, but also a tough kid. Josh Duncan a sophomore could see some time at guard as well. Colby Wright and Jimmy Kerr should be our tackles. Wright is a returning starter while Kerr is a big, athletic kid whom we’re really excited to see what he can do. Tommy Smith is a returning player at tight end.

“We have a very fast group of running backs,” continued Eggleton. “Brady Quinn, Connor Kopnitsky, and Ryan Hummell who can play a variety of positions as he’s that talented.

“Ashton Rex is a fast kid who returns as one of our top receivers from last season. Dawson Hotchkiss who is very fast, Dawson Smail, who played very well as a freshman and anyone who follows Clarion baseball knows what kind of an athlete he is. Kohen Kemmer is a sophomore who probably runs the best routes on the team, and he also has very good hands. We’re also excited to see what freshman Mason Burford can do. He’s tall and he’s fast. He’s a mix of his brothers, who played at Clarion before him.”

Defensively the Wildcats look to have Slater and Kerr line up at defensive end with John Burke a senior who could step in as well. The interior line should see a mix of Josh Duncan, Colby Wright, Owen Bauer, Tyler Klugh, and Matt Alston.

Inside linebackers could include Naser, Hummell, Braylon Beckwith (So.) Hayden Hindman (Fr.).

Outside linebackers Brady Quinn, Tommy Smith, Dawson Smail, or Connor Kopnitsky.

Defensive backs should include Hotchkiss and Rex at the corner spots with Ferguson, Quinn or Tommy Smith at the safety spots.

“One thing about our team is we have 47 players, so we don’t have a second team group. It’s more like a 1A and a 1B group,” said Eggleton. “We have pretty much two players for every position so we should be able to do a good job of keeping guys fresh this season.”

Thomas Ukert (So.) and possibly Alex Barrett (So.) should serve as the kickers for the team with Ashton Rex doing the punting.

“Most teams have trouble finding one kicker, and we actually have two we could use,” said Eggleton. “Thomas hit a 50-yard field goal in practice the other day, so he has a really big leg who can serve us well with field goals or especially getting kickoffs deep or even in the end zone.”

As far as the team strengths go, Eggleton said: “Our athletes are our biggest strength. Our depth I feel will serve as another strength. I feel our line on both sides of the ball is going to surprise people even though we have some inexperience there.

“We had a really good offseason program this season with as many as 25 kids participating in our voluntary workouts. As far as goals for the season goes, we’re just … looking forward to the Brookville game. As always though the long-term goal is to try and win a KSAC and a District 9 championship.”

Clarion is scheduled to host Brookville on Friday at the C-L High School football field.

Prior to that game, the team will honor the late Jim Williamson, who coached a variety of sport, along with being a teacher, at C-L for many years.

“I was lucky enough to have Coach Williamson as my defensive line coach,” said Eggleton. “It was great because I learned a lot not just about football, but about coaching from him. The players all played hard for him because he was a great motivator, and he was one of those types of guys you didn’t want to disappoint. This is going to be a very special night for me and I’m glad we were able to put it together. It’s a well-deserved tribute.”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

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