From backyard football games to QB for state-ranked Western Reserve
Are football play- ers in small locker rooms entitled to have big goals?
Western Reserve High’s players have been using clean, but rather small locker rooms in their current school building and that seems fitting for a Division VI (small-school) program.
But Western Reserve (4-0) is currently ranked third in the Associated Press poll and No. 1 in Region 21 of the first week of computer rankings. The Blue Devils, who made playoff appearances the last three seasons, believe they can do it again.
“I definitely think we have the personnel to get back to the playoffs,” said quarterback Jeff Clegg. “My team’s way more balanced than they’ve ever been and our [offensive] line is probably one of the best to come [out of Reserve] and our running back [Donnie Bolton] is the fastest in the league.”
Clegg threw for 1,807 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010 with just three interceptions.
Now he has a line that averages 280 pounds. Bolton, who rushed for 960 yards last season, returns to the backfield.
However, Western Reserve had an empty ending when it lost to McDonald, 13-7, last November.
After Western Reserve marched 95 yards, Bolton was stopped at McDonald’s 1-yard line as time expired.
“It was the worst thing that could have happened to last year’s seniors and the best thing that could have happened to this year’s seniors,” Clegg said. “It’s the motivation that’s pushed us [coming into this season].”
Western Reserve meets McDonald in week 10 this year.
In Western Reserve’s 2011 season-opening 52-19 win over Mathews, Clegg completed 15 of 24 passes for 249 yards and five TDs.
Out of a multiple offense, the Blue Devils utilize a stacked-I, the I-formation with two running backs and two receivers or a five-wide package.
Senior tight end Thomas Benyo is Western Reserve’s top receiver, while Tim Cooper, Parker Warren, Mitch Shahaden and Danny Rosati are Clegg’s other key targets.
Although the Blue Devils demonstrated that they can open up their offense, they’ll push the opponent on the ground, too.
“We want to be known as a team that can do what we want to to, whether that’s passing or running the ball,” Clegg said. “We want to make sure that other teams know we can do both. We want teams to rise up and try to stop both because if you stop one, we have the other.”
In the backfield, Clegg shares space with TB Bolton and FB Tommy Marlowe.
Clegg takes his snaps from Tyler Powell, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound son of Fitch wrestling coach Brett Powell.
Clegg is Blue Devil born and raised, with parents Denny (1989) and Debbie (1987), both graduates.
One of Clegg’s brothers, John, is a freshman and his youngest brother, Joe, is a sixth-grader playing Pee-Wees.
Jeff Clegg has photos of himself playing backyard football as a 3-year-old with his cousin.
“It’s been a part of my life,” Clegg said. “That’s how my dad raised us.”
Denny Clegg was a running back in high school and so was Jeff in Pee-Wees until the seventh grade.
“We started throwing the ball and our junior high coach, Tim Hall, decided that would be a better position for me. That’s when I got switched to quarterback.”
Clegg started a few varsity games his freshman year, but he played mostly JVs which had an 8-1 record, losing only to McDonald.
The varsity finished 8-3 after losing to McDonald in the playoffs.
Clegg started at safety as a sophomore. Western Reserve lost to eventual state champion Norwalk St. Paul in the playoffs.
“They gave us a real beating,” Clegg said.
He started every game at quarterback as a junior, and played sparingly on defense.
Would he be prepared to play defense now?
“To be honest, I like playing defense more than I like playing offense. Quarterback is my role, but if the coaches do need me to play defense, I can. They work me at outside linebacker or safety or corner. It’s wherever they need me. I love playing [quarterback], but you get to do a little more hitting on defense and you’re not getting hit quite so much.”
“I always took pride in being a great leader and trying to get the most out of my team because, without them, we’re not as good. I need them to block on both passing and running plays and I need the running backs to run as hard as they can and the receivers to catch. I just want to see them play their best, so I think coaches see that leadership quality in me.”
His individual goal was 2,000 yards passing this year, but Clegg understands that team achievement is far more important.
“The last two weeks we hadn’t really passed the ball and I stand back and say, ‘keep on running it’ because whatever we have to do to win is what I want to do.”
Apparently, Clegg doesn’t get rattled.
“I love the pressure games — the more the better. I like those high-intensity games when both teams are going at it.”
Clegg said his childhood dream was to play for YSU.
“I watched them while growing up. That’s not saying that’s where I’m going to go, but it was a childhood dream to play there.”
The locker room will be brighter, if not bigger when students move into the new Western Reserve building halfway through the school year.
“It’s just small-school football,” Clegg said, “but we have the attitude of a bigger bunch. I don’t want to sound too cocky because it’s a lot of hard work for us in the offseason. It’s a lot of hard work to get where we’re at.”