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Dragons won’t hang their heads over this season

Looking back at the 2020 football season

  • Freshman Joshua Keith grew as a dual-threat quarter- back after starter Trace Thackerson was sidelined with an injury. - Ken Leinart

  • The Clinton High School Dragons will be without senior Trent Herrell next season. The all-everything defender was a force on the defensive front for the Orange and Black. - Ken Leinart

  • Fullback Gavin Bollinger was very adept at pounding the rock in short-yardage situations for the Dragons. - Ken Leinart

Clinton football Coach Darell Keith, sat down to talk about how he felt the season progressed, along with the stumbles and triumphs that led to the team’s 2-7 record.

“Honestly,” said Keith, “I was dissatisfied with myself as a coach. I think the season would have gone better if I had come in with who I am. Instead, I didn’t come in here as Coach Keith, I came in here as someone else. I usually come in with a dictator personality and tell people ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is what you’re going to do.’ I wasn’t forceful enough, and that hurt us. I thought this was a bigger program and I shouldn’t come into it like that, and that was a mistake. In that aspect, I let the kids down.

“I’m a smashmouth guy, but I wasn’t presenting that type of offense. I hired a guy and I let him do the job, and he did good. The kids weren’t responding to him as I wanted them to, though, so I simplified the offense and played smash-mouth football, and the kids picked it up fast. I guess what you take away from that is: No matter what you do, if you sign your name to something, you need to be fully involved with every bit of it. Borderline micromanage if you have to. Trust, but verify. And when I stepped up, I was able to put my personality on the offensive side of the ball in the latter half of the season.”

Keith talked more about the kind of mentality shift he’s tried to inspire in the players, explaining more of what “smashmouth” football means to him.

“I tell the kids all the time. You can do all the talking and scheming you want, but at the end of the day, it’s about whether you’re tougher than the other guy. Is he going to punch you in the mouth, or are you going to punch him? My approach isn’t a new one, but it’s new here, and that approach is just to beat the opponent into submission. What’s old is new, and what’s new is old. That’s just who I am. I’m a frontal assault type guy. What you see is what you get.

I’ not trying to fool anybody. The thing about playing smashmouth football is you’ve got to get the kids really strong and be well-coached. We’re going to add a few wrinkles here and there in our playstyle, but we’re going to build mass and muscle more than anything. One of the things that really made me happy: all the kids that wouldn’t come out before, those massive kids I saw in the halls, they’re out now. We have 15 or 16 kids now that we didn’t even expect to come out.”

Keith said his most positive moment was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Karns game.

“They got gritty. I got emotional when we played Karns because I saw they didn’t stop fighting. They played that last game not like they were 0-7, but like they were in the semifinals going to state. That was when I knew we had turned the corner. I mean, when was the last time you saw a fullback run over a linebacker for 37 yards?

Seeing all those people in the stands jumping up and down after the Karns game. Seeing how happy all of them were, and we just won a single game. They were so happy. They’re the best fans in the world. How do you have 300-400 people at a game when you haven’t won a game all season? I’m in debt to the people here, man. I owe them a winning season, and we’re going to give them something to cheer for this year.”

Keith said that the spirit of the kids and the players have really inspired him more than anything else.

“I have had many football teams in my life, and this one was by far the best. Not record-wise, still the best. As an adult, you have a lot of 2-8 seasons in your life. Whenever something bad happens – that’s a 2-8 season. When you get fired or someone you love dies, that’s a 2-8 season. These kids hadn’t won anything, but they practiced every day like they were undefeated. They never rolled over, cause they’re warriors and fighters. They’re the future men of America. They might not have won this battle in their life, but I think they’re going to win the war in their life.”

On a more personal note, when asked if he could go back in time, knowing what he does now, would he still come to Clinton, Keith didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely. I live in Clinton. I’m one of the few coaches that lives where I coach. Definitely.”