A sensational group of senior football players graduated from Clinton after the 2017 season, after making the two deepest playoff runs in school history the past two seasons. Now, a new head coach will take over a young roster with the goal of extending the Cougars' playoff streak to six years.
Jake Standiford is no stranger to the program, as he has been the Cougars' offensive coordinator for the past four seasons, all of which have ended in the playoffs at Clinton. With nearly a dozen players graduating that had all-conference honors, including eight first-teamers and 2,000-yard rusher Zach Krause, the task at hand for this season is a little taller.
Not everyone graduated from last year's team. All-conference second-team offensive lineman Sam Duggan is back, and most of the returning seniors from last year's varsity squad are seniors as well on both sides of the line. While some very notable starters depart from the program, Clinton's program is heavily invested in the development of the front lines.
Quarterback Tyler Halsted, who threw for 613 yards and ran for 842 while scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground and another five passing, has graduated, leaving incoming junior Jack Henschler to man the position. Henschler threw four passes last season, but ran 36 times for 187 yards and three scores. In the backfield, Krause departs, but Jackson Nelson picked up honorable mention all-conference honors after scoring eight touchdowns on just 66 carries, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He'll also be a part of the return game. A handful of other players, such as Tyler Harrington and Tyler Dominy, also carried the ball a few times, so their roles should grow in the run-heavy offense that averaged 372 yards per game last season.
At receiver, Jackson Carter is the only player back other than Nelson who caught a pass last year, but the Cougars only completed 35 passes in 2017.
Defensively, Jackson Nelson played a significant role, third on the team in tackles while racking up 15 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He'll lead a defense that will see mostly newer players at virtually every position. There's some experience on the front line, with Clayton Jeffers (41 tackles, 5 TFLS, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) getting stats in every game on defense, but a few others, such as Sam Duggan, Zach Wynstra, Jack Henschler, and Tyler Harrington are back after playing in reserve roles for the most part last year.
Henschler is listed as the team's primary specialist coming back next year, although he didn't attempt a kick or punt or field a return in 2017. Nelson returned nearly a dozen kicks and punts last year.
Clinton opens up the year against one of the teams picked to replace them atop the conference, East Troy, at home. The Cougars visit Brodhead/Juda before coming back home to take on Whitewater on August 31.
September begins with a road game against a young-and-improving Edgerton squad, before returning home for a Week 5 game against Big Foot. That all sets up a big road game against Jefferson, a program that like Clinton graduated a large number of seniors from a season ago. On September 28, Clinton hosts McFarland.
October's big finish has Clinton on the road at Beloit Turner before finishing up the regular season against perennial Rock Valley Conference contender, Evansville/Albany.
Clinton Cougars - Rock Valley
Head Coach: Jake Standiford (1st Season), 0-0
2017 Result: 11-1 (9-0), 🏆1st in the Rock Valley (Lost in Level 3 of the Division 5 playoffs to Lake Country Lutheran, 17-14)
Three-Year Record: 27-8 (5-3 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 12 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 2 Honorable Mention (17 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 27 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 8 Honorable Mention (47 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (2): OL/DL Sam Duggan (2nd Team-OL), Sr.; RB/LB/ST Jackson Nelson (HM-RB and LB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/DL Clayton Jeffers, Sr.; DL/OL Zach Wynstra, Sr.; OL/DL Caleb Wille, Sr.; DE/OL Jacob Merimon, Sr.; OL/DL Remington Loback, Sr.; QB/DB/ST Jack Henschler, Jr.; LB/RB Tyler Harrington, Jr.; LB/RB Tyler Dominy, Jr.; TE/LB Jackson Carter, Jr.; DB/WR Tyler Fudge, Jr.; TE/DL David Paulson-Warn, Jr.; DB/WR Caleb Ellefson, Jr.; OL/DL Luis Esquivel, Jr.
BIG Games: vs East Troy, August 17; at Jefferson, September 21; at Beloit Turner, October 5