TIFFIN — Clear Creek Amana has been here before. Now comes the hard part.
After an 8-2 season in 2018 that could be regarded as the best in school history, the Clippers convene this fall trying to do what previous successful teams have not been able to in Tiffin.
“I think our kids are hungry to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke,” third-year CCA coach Gabe Bakker said.
Doing so would be a departure from previous CCA successes. A 7-2 season in 2016 was followed by a 3-6 campaign. In 2014, the Clippers were 7-3. The next year? 5-5. Even when the program experienced three straight seasons above .500 from 2008-10 (6-4, 7-4, 6-5), the 2011 team went 0-9.
This year’s team is well aware of that history.
“I know winning games is what they want to do, but we need to go put a good product out on the field still,” Bakker said. “A better product. We can’t control how other teams are going to improve or be better, but I know our kids are going to go out there and show everybody that we’re a better football team than we were a year ago.”
CCA, ranked 10th in the preseason, should be in a position to keep moving forward with eight of the top 12 tacklers back on a defense that allowed just 12.4 points per game.
“I think with the new hard-nosed mentality that Bakker has installed, the program is only going to go uphill,” said first-team all-district linebacker J.J. Denny, who led the team with 59 1/2 tackles last season. “We’re just going to keep breeding more and more talent as the years go on. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this year turns out.”
The defense also includes 4-star defensive end T.J. Bollers, a 6-4, 228-pound junior with scholarship offers from Cal, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. Bakker is already seeing more leadership from him after he totaled 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a sophomore.
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“I think the kids are looking to him to raise the level of their play and he’s raising the level of his play,” Bakker said. “Also just being a vocal leader. He’s doing a fantastic job of that and the kids are really following him right now.”
CCA does have to replace Andrew Rohret at linebacker and, more importantly, at quarterback. He passed for 896 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 1,099 yards and 16 scores a year ago. Senior Andrew Swails, junior Ryan Navara and sophomore Ben Swails are all competing, and more than one could take snaps in Week 1 against Mount Pleasant.
They’ll have Bollers and 2018 leading receiver Sam Stevens to throw to, plus starting running back Alex Figueroa returning in the backfield.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of guys touch the ball in a lot of different ways,” Bakker said.
North Scott is the favorite in District 5, a team that handed CCA its first loss in humbling fashion (45-7) after a 7-0 start last season. The Clippers’ other defeat came in the first round of the playoffs, 17-6 to Decorah. That led to an offseason featuring more 7-on-7 participation and camp visits than usual.
“We’re just gonna build on (last season),” offensive tackle Eric Zierke said. “You better believe that we want to go to the Dome.”
Clear Creek-Amana Clippers
Coach: Gabe Bakker (third season, 11-8)
Last year: 8-2, lost in first round of Class 3A playoffs
Top returners: RB Alex Figueroa, WR Sam Stevens, TE Gabe Jenn, TE/DE T.J. Bollers, OL/DL Arron Feinberg, OL Kyle Pitlick, OL Xavi Hernandez, OL Eric Zierke, DL Sam Noska, LB Zane Cunningham, LB J.J. Denny, LB Grant Jensen, CB Kaden Gisleson
Keys to making the playoffs: The offense can’t go quiet in big games. Clear Creek-Amana’s defense is a known commodity and there are playmakers on the other side of the ball. But CCA will also be breaking in a new quarterback on an offense that was stuck at various points last fall in a competitive district.
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Games to watch: Sept. 27 at Iowa City Liberty could be a play-in game with the Lightning returning almost everyone from a relatively new program. The Oct. 10 game at Davenport Assumption comes on a Thursday and could test the Clippers’ depth.
Aug. 30 — Mount Pleasant
Sept. 6 — at Fairfield
Sept. 13 — at Fort Madison
Sept. 20 — Marion
Sept. 27 — at Iowa City Liberty
Oct. 4 — Clinton
Oct. 10 — at Davenport Assumption
Oct. 18 — at No. 5 North Scott
Oct. 25 — DeWitt Central
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