LEES CREEK — Jeremy Yankey, now knee-deep into football practice at East Clinton, still believes the South Central Ohio League is the best fit for the Astros.
We talked Monday while the team waited out a thunder delay at practice.
He knows it’s not going to be easy, but he believes his formula for success will work, despite being the smallest school in a growing league.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” he said. “I’m not going to tell them (the players), we’re going to win the SCOL. We’re no where near the top teams.”
But the Astros don’t have to be in order to have a successful season. Granted, East Clinton may never win a league title in the SCOL but EC managed just one league championship in 23 years of Kenton Trace Conference play, Yankey points out.
“In order to get us to become a competitive team in the SCOL, I think we need to be definitely 50-plus (players) but closer to 60, 15 a class,” he said, noting the current roster is at 50. “We have to get to the point where we’re only playing predominately juniors and seniors on Friday night. It’s hard to ask a freshman to play on Friday, or even a sophomore.”
First, however, the long-time coach in the East Clinton pee-wee football program says things must get better Mondays through Thursdays.
“We have to first become competitive on the practice field before we can compete on the main field,” said Yankey, a member of East Clinton’s unbeaten 1989 football team.
One step in the right direction for the program is the freshman class is the largest at the high school. Despite having just eight kids play as eighth graders a year ago, 15 came out as freshmen this season. One of those 15 is a former student who has returned and another is a transfer from Leesburg.
Among the 13 seniors listed on the roster, one is Michael Graham, who epitomizes the type of dedication needed to build a solid program.
Graham is ineligible to play until week 9. Despite that, Yankey said he shows up every day for practice.
“He’s a first-year play,” Yankey said of Graham. “He’s about 6-5. Unfortunately we found out he’s ineligible but he decided he wanted to be part of something and stick it out. He’ll be a great scout team player. I told him just keep working your butt off and be ready for weeks 9 and 10 and make that your high school career.”
Two other players who have dedicated to making themselves better are D.J. Luttrell and Travis Knell. By working out at EC and The Strength Lab, Luttrell, a four-year starter, went from 320 pounds last year to 283 pounds this.
“He’s a lot quicker and a lot stronger,” Yankey said.
Knell, a starter at guard last year, went from 305 to 285, increasing his strength and quickness as well.
New coaches on the East Clinton staff this year include a couple of old faces. Former EC head coach Herb Mihalik is the defensive coordinator. Bryan Floyd, who returns after being away from the staff for two seasons, is a former player at EC and now works with the offense.
“The majority of our coaches are all younger and relatively inexperienced when it comes to coaching high school football,” said Yankey. “Coach Floyd has five years and other than coach Mihalik he’d be our most-senior high school coach.”
Michael Fritz is the only holdover from the 2014 varsity coaching staff, Yankey said. D.J. Henry, Nick Elzey and Mark Scovanner also coach at EC.
“I tell them I want your input,” said Yankey. “If you see me doing something wrong, tell me. We all want the same goal. We all ahve the same thing in mind so let’s not be afraid to speak our minds. At the end of the day, it’s all about trying to win on Friday night.”
Mihalik’s return has been extremely helpful, Yankey said.
“When we’re meeting and talking about things, it’s nice to have that perspective from a guy who’s had 10-plus years head coaching experience at two different schools and 30-plus years coaching. He just sees things differently.”
In the SCOL, Yankey notes, there are plenty of top-flight coaches. Dan McSurley at Clinton-Massie and Ron Hinton at Chillicothe have won state championships. Scott Killen at Wilmington was defensive coordinator on state championship teams. Other coaches have playoff experience.
“Half the league has very successful coaches and here I come from the pee-wee program,” said Yankey.
Holding everyone involved in the program accountable is a key for Yankey. And that includes the coaches.
“I called a wrong play, I called a wrong formation,” he said. “I dropped down and did 10 pushups just to remind yourself that we’re holding ourselves accountable.”
Reaching the playoffs is a realistic goal for the Astros, Yankey said.
And it won’t take a 10-0 season to do it.
“if we can get to that six-win mark and for us, with our region, six wins and we’re knocking on the door to the playoffs,” he said. ”Should we make the playoffs, CHCA is very good but after them there are no state championship history type teams. I guarantee you there’s nobody better (in Div. VI) than Clinton-Massie. I’m not saying it’s going to get easier for us … well, I guess I am. it’s the playoffs and everybody’s god but we’re not going to run up against teams like the ones we just ran up against the last five or six games. Nobody’s going to be better than Massie and I doubt anybody’s better than Wilmington or Chillicothe.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.