Just a couple of seasons ago, enjoyed one of its finest campaigns in nearly a decade, going 8-4 in 2008. The Comets advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before losing to the defending state champions (Waynesville).
Since then, though, times have been tough for .
The Comets went 3-8 in 2009, and 2-8 in 2010—the program’s worst back-to-back seasons since the turn of the century.
“We are the smallest school in the toughest conference in the state,” McCluer football coach Joe Henke said. “So we’re always fighting the numbers game.
“We’re like third from the bottom in (Class) 5A. But yet, we play in the Suburban North. So we’re talking losses and getting beat up. But if you take this team any given year and put us across the bridge, we’d be a .700 ballclub.”
For the 2011 season, Henke believes the numbers might have fallen back in McCluer’s favor. The Comets bring back a number of solid contributors from last year, including quite possibly the conference’s best quarterback/wide receiver passing tandem in junior QB Berlin Hollomon (6 foot 2 inches tall, 230 pounds) and senior receiver Darrion Dillard (6 foot 4 inches tall, 180 pounds).
Last year, Hollomon threw for 1,173 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Comets, while Dillard caught 32 passes, scored eight touchdowns and ranked third in the Suburban North with 700 receiving yards.
“I’m expecting big things from those guys this year,” Henke said. “I could see them getting to 14-1,500 yards this year. Hollomon’s improving every day. And Darrion’s the best go-get-the-deep-ball guy in the area.”
McCluer will also use junior backup quarterback Donnel Drake at wideout this year, giving the Comets a potentially lethal passing combination in a league where points are a premium.
“Donnel’s a great athlete,” Henke said. “We wanted to find a way to get him on the field. So he agreed to move to flanker, and we feel like we can really go after people with the pass.”
McCluer also plans to use a talented, but inexperienced duo at the tailback spot. Senior Jeff Taylor (5 foot 9 inches tall, 185 pounds) will get the starting nod, and junior JV standout Aaron Willis (5 foot 6 inches tall, 160 pounds) will earn some carries as well.
At fullback, Henke will use converted offensive lineman Kenneth Young as his primary blocking back.
“We can do that because we’ve got so much depth on the offensive line,” Henke said. “In years past, we haven’t had that. This year, we’ve got maybe 10 guys that with some work could compete for starting jobs in the trenches anywhere in the Suburban North.”
Anchoring the frontline for McCluer this year will be returning starters Johnathan Cain (6 feet tall, 250 pounds) and Malik Johnson (6 foot 3 inches tall, 295 pounds).
Joining them will be new starting center senior Kevion Jones, while some combination of seniors Kenneth Blackmon and Akeem White, and/or juniors Xavier Jenkins, Lynzel Owens and Ronald Parker will man the other two spots.
Many of these same players will compete for spots on defense as well, including Hollomon and Young at linebacker, and Cain and behemoth sophomore David Thomas (6 foot 2 inches tall, 280 pounds) on the defensive line.
“We’ll probably use a rotation of linemen,” Henke said. “Really, anybody that can get out there and get the job done will get a chance, so we can stay fresh.”
Taylor and Dillard will almost certainly start at the two safety spots, while speedy juniors Michael Smith and Aaron Willis are the likely starters at cornerback.
“Right now, our biggest question mark is at outside linebacker,” Henke said. “(Senior) Corey Ewing will play there, (sophomore) Shawn Taylor will play the other one, but we’re not real deep there.”
The Comets will find out just how quickly they’ve improved when they play their season opener Aug. 26 against defending Suburban South Conference champion and Class 5 state runner-up Webster Groves at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got to get in shape right away,” Henke said. “That's going to be a big game for them, first home game after going to state last year. We need to be ready, because I know they’ll be fired up.”
McCluer’s first home game of 2011 will be Sept. 10 when the Comets will host defending Class 2 state champion Maryville (MO) at 1 p.m.
2011 McCluer Comets Football Schedule
8/26 at Webster Groves 7 p.m.
9/3 at 1 p.m.
9/10 vs. Maryville 1 p.m.
9/17 vs. Ritenour 1 p.m.
9/24 vs. Pattonville at Lindenwood 1 p.m.
10/1 at Hazelwood West 1 p.m.
10/8 vs. 1 p.m.
10/15 at Hazelwood East 1 p.m.
10/22 vs. Normandy 2 p.m.
10/29 vs. Riverview Gardens 1 p.m.