It's coming along slowly, but hopefully it'll start picking up once we hit the big time so to speak — Friday nights — and we understand the severity of how to focus, how to play hard, how to play fast. We're getting there, but it's gonna take time. —Clearfield head football coach Andre Dyson
Note: Clearfield finished with a 2-8 overall record in 2013 and was seventh in Region 6 with an 0-6 record. It did not qualify for the 4A playoffs.
CLEARFIELD — One of the greatest players in the history of Clearfield High's football program has returned to take the coaching reins at his alma mater. And he's determined to help these low-flying Falcons get off the ground and soar to glory again like they once did.
Andre Dyson, who graduated from CHS in 1997 and went on to star at the University of Utah and the National Football League as a defensive back, is the Falcons' first-year head coach, and he inherits a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2004.
He knows it won't be easy, and he knows it'll take some time to turn things around. But as is his nature, Dyson isn't backing down from this difficult challenge.
"I'm always confident, but it's just going to be a work in progress and we're just trying to get everybody on the same page," he said after a recent practice session. "It's coming along slowly, but hopefully it'll start picking up once we hit the big time so to speak — Friday nights — and we understand the severity of how to focus, how to play hard, how to play fast. We're getting there, but it's gonna take time.
"There's potential here. The whole thing's gonna be about mentality. When you've been down so long and people have told you that you couldn't, you start to believe it. So my biggest challenge is to get these kids to believe that they can. That's what's going to be the biggest thing — just try to believe, believe, believe. ... I believe in my heart that we can play with anyone and we can beat anyone, but obviously what's most important is that they believe in that.
"That's gonna take me pushing them and encouraging them and hopefully getting instilled in them and in the community to believe in what you're doing and let everything else fall into place," Dyson said. "Don't worry about all the outside stuff and just believe in yourself. It starts with that. If you don't believe in yourself, who will?"
Dyson certainly believes in himself, and he has a firm belief that the Falcons' program can rise back up and be competitive again.
He looks at neighboring schools Northridge, Layton and Syracuse and the success they've had over the last eight to 10 years, and he sees no reason why Clearfield can't do the same thing.
"The talent's there; there's high schools right around the corner with the same kids," Dyson said. "They grew up in the same area, played in the same rec leagues, played against you all the time, and the difference is mentality to me. Northridge and Syracuse and Layton have the same kids, it's just a different mentality. Those kids have been winning, and somehow they've figured out a way to be confident and they believe that they can win and they've won. So to me, that's a mentality issue. To say you can't win at Clearfield, to me, that's an excuse.
"I don't think there's a bunch of kids in this area or in this state that are going to be going to the Florida States and Floridas. ... It's not like you're going to have 10 or 11 Division I prospects on your team. You might have one or two, but one or two doesn't make you better.
"Eleven guys make you better, and hopefully we can get them to understand that," he said. "Eleven guys at once, 11 guys at a time, 11 guys coming together and playing as one, and everyone on the sideline pulling together, everyone's like a family. The sky's the limit, and anything is possible. That's what I'm trying to teach these guys — that anything is possible."
Dyson is well aware that that mentality won't change overnight. After all, the Falcons have only managed between two and four wins each year for the last decade.
And last year's team struggled mightily, particularly on offense, where the Falcons scored just 42 points — total — in their six Region 6 losses and less than 11 points per game overall last season while allowing league opponents an average of over 33 points per game, and 29 ppg overall.
"I don't even mention last year. I don't even know what they did," Dyson said. "I don't care what they did and what happened. I just tell them this is what we're doing now."
This year's fall camp brought out more than 100 athletes who wanted to be a part of Clearfield's program, and Dyson was encouraged by that turnout.
"We have a lot more kids out than expected, so that's been a pleasant surprise and it's a good start," he said. "I didn't pay much attention to what they did last year, and I don't know who played what. So it's a whole different scheme — a whole different offense, a whole different defense — so basically I'd say we have no returning starters."
At this juncture, he's still not sure who his starting quarterback will be, but the top candidates for the job are senior Ricky Martinez, who played a little bit last year and threw three touchdown passes; juniors Jace Haney and Jaxon Manning; and promising sophomore Jake Drake.
"It's too close to call right now," Dyson said. "I wish someone would separate themselves from the rest."
The Falcons are deep this year at running back, where seniors Rafe Hale, Chipper Parkinson and Karson Elwell, junior Austin Ewing, and seniors Sky Johnson and Kourtney Martin will all be looking for opportunities to carry the ball.
"That's probably our deepest position," Dyson said. "They're each different type of guys, they all bring something different, and they all can help us in some aspects this season."
At wide receiver, seniors Deondre Hambrick, Dalton Dodge, Jaden Markos and Jacob Beck will be joined by sophomores Kenny Sanchez, Dallen Visser and Dallas Thielfoldt, and juniors Brennan Marshall, Garrett Garcia and Max Sorenson.
On the interior of the offensive line, seniors Brock Martinez and Brock Patterson and junior Connor Stevens are vying for the center spot. The offensive guards include juniors Josh Tinajero and Chase Evans, senior Payton Gonzales, junior Jaxson Pauline and senior Sasha Chervonov. And the offensive tackles include seniors Chasen Robbins, Braden Parry and Devin Thurgood, junior David Almodovar, senior Landon Wheelwright, and juniors Jacob Dangel and Tyler Craig.
Over on defense, the top tackles are Pauline, Wheelwright, Gonzales, Tinajero, Evans, Dangel and sophomore Brandon Bunderson.
The list of linebackers is led by Martin, Frazier, senior Ethan Player, Parkinson, Gravley, junior Bryson Hendricks, Friend, Elwell, senior Brandon Lewis, Marshall, Ewing and sophomore Jaden Keller. Elwell had 26 tackles and an interception last season, and Gravley had 16 tackles, a sack and an interception of his own.
In the defensive backfield, Hale, senior Lance Gardiner, Beck, Markos, Manning, senior Kam Hilton and sophomore Statton Stoker will play cornerback, with Hambrick, Weaver, senior Zach Herman, Garcia, Sky Johnson, junior Austin M. Johnson and Sanchez at safety. Hale had 19 tackles last season, while Sky Johnson added 18 and Herman had 13 more, plus an interception.
Hale or senior Mason Mabbitt will handle the placekicking chores, and the punting job is up for grabs, with Sky Johnson, Parkinson and Manning the front-runners there.
Dyson likes what he's seen out of his team thus far in fall camp, and he remains optimistic that the program will find success not too far down the road.
"They're getting better," he said. "They're not where we want them to be yet, but we have a lot of ability, a lot of guys who can do different things, and what we're trying to find with separation is those guys that can do it each and every play, each and every day, and do it 100 percent every time.
"We want to build that competition within each group that they push each other to help all of them become as good as possible. The more depth you can have and the more guys that can get reps and get comfortable within the system, I think the better we'll be.
"Obviously we would love to not have guys go both ways and, to be honest, I don't think we'll have too many guys that will," Dyson said. "I think we'll have that luxury of being able to keep guys as fresh as possible. There obviously are some guys who we'll need to go both ways, but our goal is to keep as many guys on one side of the ball as possible.
"I feel like we're blessed. We have a lot of good athletes and a lot of good players. It's just a matter of finding the right guys in the right spots and getting them mentally prepared to win games, not just to play games but to win games. And I think that's the difference. These guys are used to getting ready to play, but I'm telling them, 'Get ready to win.' Because that's our motto: Prepare to win. Ever since I got here, we put it up on the board and we want them to prepare to win in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field. All that stuff goes hand in hand, and that's what I'm preaching."
Dyson sees no sense in downplaying his team's capabilities so, when it came time to rank the teams in his region and in the 4A ranks, he put Clearfield right where he expects them to be someday sooner or later — No. 1.
"For me, people laugh, but I don't care. I don't have a problem saying it. Our goal is to win every single game we're playing in, and I don't care what they say," he said. "And when they sent me that preseason questionnaire, heck, yeah, I picked Clearfield to win the region, and heck, yeah, I picked Clearfield to be No. 1 in the state. And I don't mind saying that.
"Why I'm saying that is, to me, it's a joke if you don't say that. If you're a coach and you don't pick your team to win, you basically just told your team you're gonna lose games. So if you say that and then turn around and try to fire your team up to beat one of those top teams, I think you're being fake. If you pick your team to finish fourth in the region, so when you play those three teams you picked ahead of you, you might as well not even practice that week because you're just lying to your players because you already said they're going to beat you.
"That's my mentality," he said emphatically. "I picked us to win region and I expect us to win region, and I picked us to be the No. 1 team in the state. That's the mentality I have and I told my team that's how you guys have to think. And I'm not gonna say, 'We'll be at the bottom of Region 6 because it's so tough.' I'm not gonna do that. East and Bountiful, if I already told you we can't beat 'em, then they should believe that they can beat us. And we have to have that same mentality — that we can beat you."
And to that end, there's a learning curve that the Falcons must follow in order to get where Dyson wants them to be someday.
"We've got to learn how to win," he said. "It's hard; it's a challenge. You learn how to win, and you learn how to lose. It's the same thing. And you have to understand what it takes. That's going to be the biggest hurdle, teaching these guys what it takes to win. And you've got to do it every day, every play.
"All you have to be is a top-four team in your region, you just have to beat three teams in your region to go to the state playoffs. People want to make it bigger than it is. Obviously, our goal is to win every game but, at end of the day, it's not that steep of a hill to climb to get to the playoffs. And once you get a little bit of playoff success, that's when teams build and then you start winning more games.
"I know these kids want to win; everyone wants to win," Dyson said. "But will we do what it takes to win? That's what I'm excited to find out. I know we'll line up; I know we'll play hard, and I know we'll be excited. But will you do the little things? Will you block a little longer, will you run a little harder? Will you do the little things that it takes to be a winner? ... I believe that we'll get there. We've got a great coaching staff that works hard and wants to coach and wants to teach these kids.
"We need to get that community back. When I played here, everyone was here. That's what you want to get. We need to get the Clearfield family, the Clearfield nation, together. The more you get that community support and school support, just that pride and that Falcon on your helmet, I think that'll go a long way. Once the community starts believing in you, then the players start believing in themselves even more. Believe in yourself, and it's amazing what you can accomplish when you just believe in yourself. I'm anxious, man, I'm ready to go."
Clearfield Falcons at a glance
Coach: Andre Dyson takes over the reins at the school where he starred before graduating in 1997. This is the first head coaching job for the former University of Utah and NFL standout defensive back, who has previously served as an assistant coach at Weber State and Weber High.
(0 returning starters; Spread offense)
With an entirely new offense being implemented by Dyson, the Falcons don't have anyone he considers a returning starter. The quarterback job is up for grabs, and the running back position is deep with Rafe Hale, Chipper Parkinson, Karson Elwell, Austin Ewing, Sky Johnson and Kourtney Martin all hoping for carries. Deondre Hambrick leads the receiving corps, and the Falcons have some good size and strength on the front line. But they must make vast improvement in putting points on the scoreboard from a year ago, when they averaged just 7 points per game in Region 6 play and 10.7 ppg overall.
(0 returning starters; 4-3-4 defense)
Braden Parry, Adam Poppleton, Tyler Craig, Chasen Robbins, Landon Wheelwright and Payton Gonzales will help lead the charge up front, and Kourtney Martin, Dominique Frazier, Ethan Player, Travis Gravley, Chipper Parkinson and Karson Elwell will lead the linebacking corps. Rafe Hale, Lance Gardiner, Jacob Beck, Jaden Markos, Deondre Hambrick, Zach Herman and Sky Johnson head up the secondary. The Falcons also must improve a great deal defensively after giving up an average of 33.3 points per game to Region 6 opponents last year, and 29.1 ppg overall.
Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: Seventh
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Sixth
Bottom line: Clearfield hasn't had a winning season since 2004, and the Falcons have managed between two and four wins each year for the last decade. Dyson is determined to change that and, even though he realizes it won't happen overnight, his goal is to steadily transform the mentality of the young men in his program to that of a consistent winner — on the field, in the classroom, and in everything else that they do. He has a firm belief system that it can be done. Now, he has to convince the people in this long-suffering program to begin believing in themselves again so that the Falcons can start soaring with pride again.
Clearfield coaching history
2014 — Andre Dyson (0-0)
2012-2013 — Will Hawes (5-15)
2009-2011 — Jeff Bingham (8-22)
2006-2008 — Billy Plium (10-22)
1991-2005 — Randy Johnson (100-64)
1988-1990 — Brent Lund (12-18)
1977-1987 — Brent Hancock (49-61)
1969-1976 — Jack Hannum (37-40)
1965-1968 — Don Jenson (7-30)
1961-1964 — Boyd "Tiny" Grant (10-21)
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Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.