The feeling of being done too early for their liking last October quickly turned to anger for the Amboy Clippers.
After finishing 4-5 and missing the playoffs, the Clippers hit offseason training hard.
Watching Big Rivers rivals make deep playoff runs – including a 2A state title for Morrison, a team the Clippers played tough in a 10-0 loss in Week 7 – made for extra motivation every time Amboy’s players lifted weights and conditioned all winter, spring and summer.
“Last year was a disgrace to us,” senior lineman Drew Fordham said.
“We wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. We wanted to get Amboy football back to where it’s supposed to be.”
Fordham and his fellow linemen were some of the hardest workers throughout offseason workouts. Returning four starters up front, the Clippers’ offensive line was bound and determined to make a difference in 2012.
“That down year last year didn’t sit well with us,” junior Emmitt Hicks said, “and we wanted to come back this year and show what we’re capable of. We did a lot of work in the offseason just getting stronger, and we’ve been a lot more physical this year because of it.”
That physicality has shown up on game film all year long. The holes are bigger and stay open longer, and Amboy has used its sheer size up front to allow the inside power run game and the outside option run game to flourish.
Backs Cooper Nelson, Spencer Johnson and Bailey Appleman have combined for 1,647 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns this year, while quarterback Tyson Powers has added 770 yards passing, 175 yards rushing and 11 total TDs.
“The linemen don’t get the glory; it’s the backs who get their picture in the paper,” Hicks said. “But we take pride in that, because if the backs have big games, it’s because we did our jobs. When we win the battle up front, we usually win the game.”
It’s shown up defensively, too. Linebackers Appleman and Taylor Ikens lead the team in tackles, and it’s all because the guys up front are executing their jobs play in and play out.
“We don’t get the press, but we take a lot of pride when the linebackers are making a lot of takles,” junior Garrett Liebing said. “We take on the double-teams and make the O-line work on us, and that frees up the linebackers to make plays. We have to do the pushing, not be getting pushed back off the line of scrimmage.”
But it’s not only the Clippers’ better size, more aggressive attitude and the added strength from all those offseason workouts that’s made a three-win difference this year. With all those returning starters having gained so much experience in 2011, things have run so much more smoothly up front this season.
Whether it’s contianing the defensive pass rush, opening a hole inside for fullback Appleman, or sealing the outside edge for Johnson, Nelson and Powers, coach Gary Jones has seen a much better job of sustaining blocks this year than last. That comes from not only the lessons learned as individuals, but also as a cohesive blocking unit working together side-by-side in the trenches.
“We all really like working with the other guys,” senior Tanner Behrends said. “We’re all good friends on and off the field, and it’s always fun to go out there and block with them.
“There’s a time for work, but it always helps when you can keep it light, have fun playing your position with the guys next to you. I think we’re having more fun than last year, and it shows on the field and in the win column.”
Class 2A playoffs
North Shore Country Day (7-2) at Amboy (7-2)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Harbor, Amboy
Radio: 101.7 FM
Twitter: Follow Larry Brennan (@LarryBrennan) for live updates.