CLINTON — New season, new opponents.
With the Iowa High School Athletic Association restructuring districts in Class 4A, schools at that level will see unfamiliar opponents on the schedule this year.
For example, the Clinton River Kings start the schedule with Central DeWitt on Friday night. It's one of three new teams that the River Kings will see in 2014.
In theory, Clinton could win one game, and still be eligible for the playoff round come late October. Unlike the days of playing in the 10-team Mississippi Athletic Conference, when every game was a conference game, non-district games have no bearing on the playoffs, and Clinton has five of those since it is in one of the two five-team districts in the state.
Obviously, there's more that the River Kings want.
"We're taking it one game at a time," Clinton coach Lee Camp said. "It's a different approach to fans and things like that, but in reality, every coach and player in the locker room believe that every game matters. The thing that's good is that when the sun comes up every Saturday morning, you're still in the hunt."
The new schedule allows Camp to experiment many ideas with his team, which he is open to doing.
"It gives us the chance to try new things, and see what we can do without feeling you have your back against the wall," Camp said. "All games are competitive, and all I ever look at is one game at a time. I'm worried about the next game ahead of us."
With unfamiliar teams on the schedule, it might give scouts more tension to scout under pressure. Thanks to technology, however, preparation, according to Camp, will be just as feasible as if the River Kings were preparing to play a Mississippi Athletic Conference school.
"We're really limited what we know about DeWitt, but the rest of them we'll know about because of Hudl," Camp said.
Hudl is an online scouting service that allows teams to upload its game film online, rather than do it the traditional way of hand-delivering game tape to opposing coaches.
"We have an open library to the state for (Class) 4A," Camp said. "So when we go online, we can see games that Senior and Linn-Mar have played. Hudl saves the districts money on whether they'll send scouts, so that's a great asset. I'm really happy 4A is doing it this way. All the MAC coaches are positive on this; it really was great."
Coaches will have to keep their cursor on Clinton defensive end Thomas Smith. He did not play in the Aug. 22 scrimmage because of a strained Achilles' tendon, but he will be a key impact player.
"We need to be physical and mentally tough because we have a lot of guys who will be playing on both sides of the ball, but that's part of the job," Smith, a Western Illinois commit, said. "We lack numbers and size, so we have to grind through it. I think we're all right size-wise, but I think we'll be all right."
Smith realizes he has a lot on his plate as one of the senior leaders on defense.
"I just need to keep talking," Smith said of his role. "We have a lot of young players on our team, and sometimes I need to give them confidence; we got to get them ready for the varsity level."
Being young, however, is not an excuse.
"It's just mental toughness is the main thing, to just get tougher," Smith said. "Tyler Clark and Brian Powell have a lot on their plate playing offensive and defensive line, and the same thing with Tristan Stewart coming off of shoulder surgery."
Camp believes that Smith needs to be a big factor.
"He gives us more depth; his size is going to make the (line)backers a little bit more free," Camp said.
On offense, Johnny Sullivan will likely be the starter at quarterback in Week 1, but that's not to say Luke Larkin or Brett Tornow won't get snaps, too.
"Johnny understands the plays," Camp said. "He's releasing the ball well, and it helps to have good receivers around him. He's looking at the defense making some reads, and I'm expecting him to run the offense really well. It helps that he has a couple seniors in the backfield with him."
Sullivan, who is only a sophomore, understands that he's the captain of the ship when Clinton kicks things off this week.
"I just kept working hard to try and get the job, and the other guys did, too, but I think the nerves are out of the way," Sullivan said. "I feel like this year is good for us to switch districts. and we're excited to get going."
Kristian Bahnsen and Austin Peters are the two running backs who will fill the shoes of Alex and Dustin Caldwell, who combined for 188 carries last season.
"Kristian does a nice job; he keeps his legs moving. I think he's going to see the ball a lot," Camp said. "Austin does a nice job at running and blocking at fullback."