Prep Football

'Everything' is changing for Clayton Ridge football team

Ogden column: Eagles learned lessons from 0-9 'gut punch'

Clayton Ridge coaches address the Eagles during a practice on Aug. 18. (J.R. Ogden/The Gazette)
Clayton Ridge coaches address the Eagles during a practice on Aug. 18. (J.R. Ogden/The Gazette)

GUTTENBERG — Let’s get one thing out of the way right now.

Chad Harbaugh, entering his 22nd season as football coach at Clayton Ridge High School, is not part of the Harbaugh coaching family. There’s no relation between Chad and Michigan’s Jim and Baltimore’s John. At least, he doesn’t think so.

“We don’t spend Thanksgivings together,” he said with a laugh last week as his Eagles were taking the practice field not far from the Mississippi River.

Let’s get another thing out of the way. This isn’t a story about a program steeped in tradition, a team that always is in the hunt for playoff berths and state championships.

Clayton Ridge has been to the playoffs seven times since 2004, the last in 2016. Since that time, however, the Eagles have won six games. Total.

There were back-to-back 3-6 seasons in 2017 and ’18. Last year’s team went 0-9, allowing at least 50 points four times.

“We haven’t thrown a touchdown pass in two years,” Harbaugh said.

But the beauty of a new year is the fresh start it affords. Every team starts every season with high expectations, sometimes lofty and sometimes realistic.

Programs can either wallow in despair or rise to new heights. Clayton Ridge and its 45-man roster has chosen the latter.

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“We’re going 7-0, no doubt in my mind, 100 percent,” said quarterback Oakley Harbaugh, Chad’s son.

Nobody wants to experience 0-9 again.

“Man, it was a punch in the gut,” Oakley said.

“It hurt,” lineman Kolin Severson said. “It hurt quite a bit.”

“I’ve always loved football and going 0-9 really hurt,” running back Justin Cook said.

Chad Harbaugh said “everything” went wrong last year and he’s changing “everything” to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“It was a lack of confidence in the coaches,” said the 49-year-old Harbaugh, who has guided the Eagles to five of those playoff berths (he took a couple of years off before returning to the sideline). “We did the ‘let’s try everything’ ... and what we did is build a lack of confidence.”

This year, the “everything” is more focused, more detailed.

“I reset priorities,” Coach Harbaugh said.

He has four things he wants to see out of every player every play — did he line up in the right place, did he do his assignment, did he use a fundamental taught in practice and did he give effort.

“If you do those four things, we’re going to be successful,” he said.

And, yes, there are high hopes for a successful season in this northeast Iowa community. Oakley said 7-0. Dad said “I don’t see any team on our schedule we can’t beat,” but said the majority of the players are thinking 5-2 or 6-1.

“We’ll surprise people,” Coach Harbaugh said. “We’re just so different than we were last year.

“We have a lot of kids who didn’t (come out), couldn’t, whatever.”

Now they are on the team, including a couple of linemen who have Harbaugh excited.

“We’re just enormous,” he said.

Stick around and watch practice, Harbaugh suggested.

“You’re going to see athletes. You’re going to see 6-foot athletes all over the place. Our size is going to be unmatched.”

Oakley Harbaugh knows it’s going to take more than that, however, to accomplish those goals.

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“We’ve got a lot of trust in each other,” he said. “That’s huge. I would rather have a team of people who are average who trust each other a ton than all the elites on one team where there is no trust.

“You can’t win without trust.”

But 0-9 isn’t getting flushed.

“We’ll use last year,” Severson said. “It’s not something you can just let go. It bit us.”

Comments: jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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