Photo by Nick Baker – Clovis High looks strong again for the 2016 season, a year after losing the D1 Central Section final to Liberty-Bakersfield. Head coach Rich Hammond enters his eighth season as the head coach and is 55-20 in their last six seasons.
By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
It’s been eight months since the boys in blue donned their iconic gold helmets with the blue “C” and marched into Lamonica Stadium.
And it was on that cold December night when the Cougars’ magical run through the Central Section, with their sparkling 11-1 record and a TRAC co-championship, came to a crashing halt at the hands of Liberty-Bakersfield in a 56-21 loss at home in the D1 Central Section championship game.
But when the Cougars are unleashed on the field on August 27 against Burbank at Lamonica Stadium, they’ll have already spit out the bitter taste of last year’s loss – one that’s provided motivation throughout the summer.
“Anytime you get into that situation there’s going to be that motivation to come back stronger and take the next step,” said Clovis head coach Rich Hammond. “Our guys were anxious to do that and we are chomping at the bit to get back at it.”
Clovis has a long decorated history, dating back to the Daryle Lamonica days, but they haven’t won a Central Section title since 2002. Since Hammond’s 3-7 record in his first season in 2009 the Cougars have gone 55-20 the past six seasons. Good enough for three TRAC titles but not the ultimate crown – a Valley title.
Gone from last year’s team to Fresno City College is record-setting quarterback Sean Kuenzinger and sensational book-end wide receivers Coltin Velasquez (Fresno City) and J.J. Wills (University of Idaho). But waiting in the wings is senior quarterback Trey Lake, who is more than capable stepping up and taking the reigns.
Lake has looked great in early season, displaying confidence in the system and throwing the ball with accuracy. And he credits the push from family and teammates for staying focused.
“I think my hard work has payed off because I’ve dreamed about being the quarterback for the Clovis High Cougars since I was a kid,” said Lake, whose father, Rich, is the school’s volleyball coach. “My dad was taking me to cougar football games as long as I can remember and it’s always been a dream of mine to run out of the cougar head on Friday nights.”
Joining Lake are skill position players Tyson Fraser, Cole Roberts, Nash Vidmar, Christian Copeland and Samir Allen (who returns from a broken ankle suffered last season) – all who make a dizzying matchup for any team.
Hammond is clearly liking what he’s sees in the early season.
“Do I like the way the kids are working? Yeah. Do I think we’re getting better? Yes,” Hammond said. “I like the way we’re flying around on defense and I really like what we have in our running backs and our offensive linemen.”
Trevor Hartman, a third-year player is one of the best linebackers in the section. And when you think Clovis you think big ol’ dudes, and they got ‘em again this year in Division 1 recruit linebacker/tight end Clayton Alexander (6’2” 220), linemen Quinn Vosmera (6’ 3”, 220), Spenser Smith (6’ 1”, 255), Cole Acevedo (6’ 3” 310). A big loss on the offensive line though, is senior Tyler Collier who tore his ACL in summer workouts.
Then there’s two-time state wrestling heavyweight champion Seth Nevills (6’ 4” 275), who’s only a junior.
Missing from Clovis’ sideline this season will be longtime defensive coordinator Kevin Johns, a popular coach during his tenure. Hammond calls this season a season of change and the loss of Johns will be difficult to replace.
But perhaps destiny will shine its face this season on the Cougars – Hammond notes that two years ago Liberty-Bakersfield lost in the Valley championship game to Edison and then got hot at the right time to defeat the Cougars last season.
And it always helps to have a senior quarterback who believes.
“I think we have the potential to go all the way to the Valley finals,” says Lake. “I really think we could take it all this year if we stay disciplined and play Clovis Cougar football the way we have been taught.”