CEDAR RAPIDS – Down 45-0 with the continuous clock rule in effect and five minutes left until season’s end isn’t exactly a desirable situation to take one’s first varsity snap. Don’t tell the River Kings’ varsity call-ups, though.
Suiting up for the first time with the playoff River Kings, Alex Gillis, Isaiah Bailey and Johnny Sullivan all said the moment they stepped onto the field alongside players they’ve emulated the whole 2013 season was an indescribable thrill. With the game out of hand in the fourth quarter, new (younger) faces took the turf and gave fans a preview for who will take the reins when next season rolls around.
“It was a lot less nerve-racking after the first play,” said Sullivan, a freshman quarterback who played for Clinton’s sophomore team this season.
“The intensity is ramped up – 200 percent,” added two-way freshman lineman Gillis. “It taught us a lot. … You don’t know half of the stuff that goes on until you’re here. You can understand the true meaning of how you’re supposed to play, and watching (the seniors) makes it 20 times better.”
This wasn’t Clinton coach Lee Camp’s first rodeo, though. He recalled the 2009 playoffs when, even with a loaded lineup, he cycled in several youngsters to gain meaningful experience.
“I’ve done that the last couple of times – offering kids the option. More and more opt to be a part of this,” he said, adding later that he plans to coach these players and other up-and-comers that will be on the roster in 2014. “A couple of these guys were able to do this as sophomores. That was a big memory and they wanted to be back.”
Senior quarterback Eric Maddasion remembered it well, and he learned a lot.
“As sophomores, when we went to Linn-Mar for that playoff game, when we got pulled up and got to dress it was definitely a fun experience as a sophomore,” he said. “You really find out then that the level of play at the varsity level is definitely different and something you’ve got to work hard at to be good at and something that’s going to be a big switch that you’re going to have to adapt to the next year. I think it’s really good they got to do that and get in the game.
There was limited time for the players, whose numbers against the vaunted Cedar Rapids Xavier lineup hardly stood out. Sullivan was under center for seven snaps and attempted one pass – an incompletion. Bailey was sent out as one of the River Kings’ return men in the fourth quarter and received a couple of carries for small gains. Gillis took several snaps on the offensive line, and others like freshman Brian Powell rotated in on defense.
But they all agreed:
“Every play was memorable,” Gillis, Sullivan and Bailey said together.
However miniscule the play time may have seemed, Camp said the minutes already set the young and unproven players ahead of schedule for next season.
“We’ve battled well to get here and we kind of wanted to share that with everybody. That gives us something to build off of,” Camp said. “I think next season that this will be a great memory for them and a great incentive.”
Clinton will have 21 spots open after graduation, including the team’s top two running backs (brothers Alex and Dustin Caldwell), its quarterback (Eric Maddasion) and eight members of the offensive/defensive lines. Even if everyone returns, with 14 juniors listed on the current roster, young River Kings will be relied on to compete next season.
“This just makes you hungry for next year,” Bailey said.