Last year, Clinton snuck into the playoffs, grabbing the final spot as the No. 16 seed in the eastern half of the state in Class 4A and lost its opener 47-0 to Marion Linn-Mar.
The River Kings are looking for more this season.
“We want to get off to a positive start and set ourselves up for an upper-division finish in the MAC,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said.
That would be a good change for Clinton — which plays all nine games against fellow Mississippi Athletic Conference teams — after losing its first three games of the season last year. The River Kings went 3-3 over their final six games to grab that playoff berth.
Clinton got a boost from the schedule-makers in that regard as the River Kings open against Davenport North, which went 1-8 in the MAC last year and finished next to last.
Another bonus is that senior quarterback Will Carr has a year of varsity experience under his belt and the River Kings are in Year 2 of a transition to a spread offense.
Carr has the third-highest quarterback rating in the MAC among returning quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes. He threw for 705 yards and twice as many touchdowns (6) as interceptions (3). Carr — a 6-foot, 2-inch, 183-pound right-hander — also rushed for 253 yards last season, good for third on the team.
Clinton will be without 1,000-yard running back Torris Green, a senior last year, so the River Kings will likely rely on 5-9 senior Ryan Driscoll. Driscoll rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns last year after rushing for 363 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Driscoll struggled with injuries early in his junior season.
“Ryan is really developing into a good leader,” Camp said. “He’s really seeing the field. Once he got a little behind last year — sometimes you over-try — and he wasn’t seeing the holes develop. I think you’re going to see him have some pretty good games for us. He’s going to be a go-to guy for Will. He’s a hard north-south runner. I really expect him to bounce back and have a great season.”
An important part of Clinton’s new offense — which emphasizes quarterback reads — is the offensive line. Camp said he was pleased with the line’s performance, and retention of concepts, early in practice.
“Our strengths include experience at the skill positions, as well as returning linemen,” he said. “We possess good quickness and an aggressive attitude.”
The offensive line is led by 5-11, 255-pound senior Jacob Oldaker, who was selected to the Clinton Herald’s All-Area first team on the offensive line last year. Jacob Judd (6-3, 260) was named to the all-area second team and Ben Damgaard (6-0, 210) earned a third-team all-area selection. Those three, along with Jared Daehler (5-9, 190) and Zach Mohr (6-0, 202), give the River Kings five returning senior starters on the offensive line.
“I think all the seniors that we have returning — not only the offensive line, but at the skill spots — add a lot of confidence,” Camp said. “I know Will feels a lot more comfortable behind them, with his own experience, but also with theirs. The kids have had some great offseasons and put on size and speed. Raf Ramirez (another senior) has kind of come out of nowhere to fill in, too. He’s put on a lot of size, and with the return of Oldaker and Judd, those are some nice-sized kids up front.”
Clinton also returns its leading receiver from last season, 6-0 senior Cody Collender, who was named to the all-area second team. Collender caught 19 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown and was the River Kings’ second-leading scorer with 30 points, behind Green’s 78.
The biggest concern for Clinton last year was its defense. The River Kings held only one team to fewer than 20 points and allowed seven of their 10 opponents to score more than 30 points, five more than 40.
“We made some changes in the defensive scheme,” Camp said. “I think we’re a little more confident up front. We have a lot of new guys deep. We’ve dedicated some more time to trying to stop opponents. I think we’ll see some rewards.”
Clinton’s top tackler from last season, Kyle Winter — a first-team all-area linebacker — graduated. Winter was the sixth-leading tackler in the MAC with 102.
Collender, a defensive back, is the leading returning tackler with 43, which placed him fifth on the team last year.
The defensive line is going to be key for the River Kings, according to their coach.
“We want the d-line to dominate,” Camp said. “We need to be lined up right and have the line dominate to free up the backers to make some tackles. They need to get pressure on the quarterback and control the line to give our safeties and corners a chance to settle in and get some experience. It’s going to be up to the d-line to get that done.”
Camp said he expected Pleasant Valley, Bettendorf and Muscatine to be among the top teams in the MAC. The River Kings face Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf the final two weeks of the season.
The defense isn’t the only area that may cause some worry in Clinton fans.
“Our concerns are depth at some positions, size and how fast some of the younger players develop,” Camp said.
The River Kings also have to replace Seth Pennock, who in addition to several other duties, handled the punting and place-kicking.
Pennock averaged nearly 33 yards a punt, including a long of 67 yards. Camp said Jeremy Peters would likely handle much of the punting and kicking, with Ben Lauritzen possibly punting and Tyler Thacker doing some kicking.
“I think we’ll do a nice job there,” Camp said. “Neither of them have the booming leg that Seth had, but they can both place the ball. I think they’ll improve — like Seth did — as the season goes on. But they’re getting better and getting more confident in just the few weeks we’ve been going.”
Pennock, the second team all-area kicker, made 19 of 22 PATs and hit a 41-yard field goal, his only attempt of the regular season. Peters made 2 of 4 PATs last year as a junior.
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