Note: Clearfield finished with a 3-7 overall record and a 1-7 mark in Region 1. It did not qualify for the 5A state playoffs.
CLEARFIELD — A new era is about to begin for Clearfield High School's athletic teams.
This year, the Falcons find themselves reclassified into the 4A ranks, dropping down from 5A, and they've been moved into a newly aligned Region 6, where they're the northernmost school in a league which also includes Bountiful, Woods Cross, Cyprus, East and Highland, the defending 4A football champion.
Third-year Clearfield head football coach Jeff Bingham figures it's about time for the Falcons to start a new winning tradition on the gridiron, too.
"The thing I'm excited about is this group of senior kids only won two games as sophomores, but they won four games last year as juniors, and they have worked their butts off in the weight room," Bingham said. "They have gotten stronger, plus they're a really, really tight-knit group of kids. There's an unselfishness about them that I really like, which is good for a team, and I'm excited about that. They know how to compete and they don't back down.
"When it gets tough, they bow up a little bit and get after it. I'm excited about that," he said. "And if our kids start winning some games early in the season and getting some confidence ..."
Hey, who knows what might happen?
Leading the way for the Falcons' pistol offense this season will be senior quarterback Connor Parry, who played every down on the junior varsity squad last season and appears ready to step into the starting role for the varsity.
"He's one of our captains and has a great arm," Bingham said. "He's never played a down of varsity ball. We got into our camp and the first few downs in a live-scrimmage situation were pretty tense. But he settled down, and I think he's gonna be all right. He does have a gun. ... Connor's going to be the man right now."
One of the Falcons' strengths this season is a solid group of running backs featuring seniors Patrick Brock, Spencer Fronberg and Halen Strong and a pair of promising juniors, Jayden Garcia and Braxton Rogers.
"We have a really good corps of running backs," Bingham said. "Those two juniors were both in our camp we had over the summer, and I was impressed with both of them. They both have some instinctive stuff. So I feel really good at our tailback position."
Bingham is also counting heavily on wide receiver Logan Rusch, who could also run the option on offense.
Up front, offensive guard Billy Thorpe returns after emerging as one the Falcons' best linemen last year.
"He'll have a great year this year," Bingham said of Thorpe. "He has good feet and moves really well. We pull a lot in our running game, and he gets around the corner and goes. He started almost every game for us last year."
Austin Haynie also returns after seeing some time as a starter at tight end last season.
"We get into a lot of different formations out of our offense," Bingham said. "We try to keep things balanced in our pistol; we try to keep things honest both ways.
"Obviously, there are some teams that you need to throw it more against and some teams you need to run it more against, but I've always tried to keep it as balanced as possible. If you go too much one way or the other and get that shut down, you're done."
Defensively, free safety A.J. Brower, one of the most athletic kids on the team, joins Thorpe and senior linebackers Gabe Leota and Jared Egbert in leading the way for a squad which has switched to a 3-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Robbins.
A pair of juniors, 280-pound lineman Esia Soifua and tight end/linebacker Elijah Toa, are also being counted on to contribute.
"I feel really good about our defense this year," Bingham said. "Last year, we were really up in your face and forcing stuff. Sometimes it was great and sometimes it really caused a lot of problems for our opponents.
"But the better teams, as the season wore on and people started getting into film, they start picking you apart, and toward the end of the game, too, as our kids start getting tired. Because with pressure defenses, if you start getting tired, they're just not as effective.
"We're not going to be as much of a pressure defense this year," the Clearfield coach said. "We're going to be a little more sound and a little more reading stuff now instead of an in-your-face style."
Bingham feels that the move down to 4A will be a big benefit to the Falcons' football fortunes, as will the realignment which puts Clearfield into a six-team region rather than the difficult nine-team league they played in in the past.
In the old Region 1 where the Falcons formerly resided, with eight region matchups on what was a brutal schedule against some of the strongest 5A programs in the state, preseason games were at a bare minimum, early season injuries took their toll and there was little margin for error.
Now, by having an opportunity to work out any wrinkles by playing more preseason games, Bingham is optimistic that the Falcons can become more competitive once region play gets under way.
"We've got a lot of new kids," Bingham said. "In the two years that I've been at Clearfield, we've been senior-dominated. There's always three or four juniors that step up.
"This year, I'm hoping that some more juniors develop and start pushing some of these kids so that we can get deeper, because that's been one of our problems, obviously, is depth. We competed with those teams in Region 1; and most teams we would compete with in the first half, but then they would start wearing you down. We got beat up physically and came out of some of those games with critical injuries.
"I'm excited to be in a different region, playing different teams," Bingham said. "I got so stinking tired of playing in that big nine-team region where you don't get any preseason. Now I have four preseason games to work the wrinkles out. I'm excited about it, and I know the kids are excited about it.
"We'll be in 4A, playing teams that are more our size, and hopefully toward the end of the game they're going to be in the same boat we're in. It's a more even playing field."
Clearfield Falcons at a glance
Coach: Jeff Bingham begins his third season as Clearfield's head coach, but he's a 28-year high school coaching veteran. In his first two seasons at Clearfield, the Falcons went 6-14 overall. He's a graduate of Ben Lomond High.
(3 returning starters; Pistol offense)
Parry, a strong-armed senior, takes over at quarterback, and he'll be helped by a bevy of solid running backs, including Brock, Fronberg, Strong, Garcia and Rogers. Rusch, Brower and Haynie head up the receiving corps, and Thorpe anchors the line. Coach Bingham looks for a balanced attack, and with Parry's arm and a solid stable of RBs to choose from, Clearfield should be able to accomplish that goal.
(3 returning starters)
With a new defensive coordinator in Robbins, the Falcons will switch to a 3-3 scheme and won't be nearly as much of a pressure defense as they've been in the past. Brower, Leota and Thorpe are their most experienced players on defense, and with the help of Egbert, Soifua and Toa, Bingham feels the Falcons' "D" will be improved over last year.
Coaches' preseason Region 6 straw poll: Fifth
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Fifth
Bottom line: The move to 4A, combined with playing in a new six-team region which provides more preseason play, should help the Falcons become more competitive than they were in the old nine-team Region 1 which was full of land mines like Fremont, Davis, Northridge and Syracuse. Clearfield opens league play with a tough one — defending 4A champion Highland — but after that, three of the Falcons' other four region games are at home, which should enhance their state playoff hopes.
Aug. 19 — ROY, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — BOX ELDER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Ogden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Bonneville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Highland, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — EAST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — BOUNTIFUL, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Woods Cross, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Herriman, 7 p.m.