Cubs take aim at title repeat

Certainly, there’s something to be said about consistency and continuity. And since Clifton Cub football head coach Chuck Caniford took over the program in 2014, he has established just that -- in more ways than one.

Not only did the Cubs advance to the playoffs for the third consecutive season under Caniford in 2016, Clifton returns its entire coaching staff returning for 2017-18 as the Cubs look to defend their District 10-3A, Division II title.

And when the Cubs took the field for the first practice of the 2017 Texas high school football season Monday evening, the impact of the culture Caniford has established in Clifton clearly stood out.

“Consistency and continuity are critical to building a program, so we feel like this is going to help us moving forward this year,” Caniford said. “Overall, I was very pleased with the first day. The kids were focused and had a strong desire to learn.

“We had around 55 kids this afternoon, which is what we expected. Obviously, there are a lot of things that we need to improve on to get where we want to go. But for the first day, I was very pleased with the very small number of mental mistakes we made.”

But since winning their first district title since 2002, the Cubs have been hard at work in preparing to do it again. After going through the off-season workout program throughout the 2016-17 school year, the Cubs showed up in force for the summer strength and speed workouts as well as participating in the Bosque County 7-on-7 Football League.

“The summer workouts are always key,” Caniford said. “It becomes very obvious in the second hour of practice who was up here working out all summer and was not. The kids who were here had no problem handling the pace of practice and staying mentally focused throughout.

“There was also quite a bit of carryover from 7-on-7. That is why we approach 7-on-7 a little differently than some programs. We run our offense all summer, so our kids have a pretty good handle on the passing game coming into August.

“We are evaluating personnel daily, but the reality is that we really won’t know for sure who is going to step up until we get into our scrimmages over the next couple of weeks.”

After going through four days of workouts in shorts, shirts and helmets, the Cubs will put on the pads for the first time on Friday as they prepare for Clifton’s first scrimmage at McGregor on Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

The Cubs will play their second scrimmage on the road at Hico Aug. 24 before opening the 2017 regular season at home against Hillsboro Sept. 1.

“The first week is an install heavy week,” Caniford said. “We will install the vast majority of our schemes this week, so that when we get to pads, the focus becomes technique and execution. We will keep the same structure as a normal practice. We are already working on a combination of our first couple regular season opponents’ schemes.”

After running the district table last season while making their third straight playoff appearance from the first time since 1971, the Clifton backfield tandem of running back Marc Gutierrez and quarterback Hutch Kettler returns intact along with the defensive dynamic duo of lineman Mason Oliver and linebacker Hunter Ringo.

Consequently, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked the Cubs as the district favorite to repeat.

“We understand that we don’t get any gold footballs until they are earned on the field and predictions are just predictions,” Caniford said. “I remember when they predicted that the world was going to crash for Y2K and that didn’t happen. There are no guarantees. We have to go out and earn it and that starts this summer.”

With the now-defunct Dallas Triple A Academy no longer in the mix, last season’s playoff qualifiers Corsicana Mildred and Rice appear poised to contend with Rio Vista, Blooming Grove and Dallas A-Plus Academy bringing back enough firepower to present a problem.

“I think Mildred and Rice are both going to field very scary teams,” Caniford said. “Both have explosive offensive players that can change the dynamic of a game on one play.”

Cerntainly, the Cubs will have a player with that kind of potential on the field in Gutierrez, a pre-season all-state and district offensive MVP selection. Guiterrez ranks as the state’s returning Class 3A rushing leader with 1,975 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“Marc had an outstanding junior year and deserves that recognition,” Caniford said. “We had a pretty good offensive line in front of him last year, and we are going to need some guys to step up to be able to continue that success running the ball.

“I think our other guys on offense are also going to have to carry more of the load to take some of the pressure off of Marc. We know we are going to see a lot of guys in the box every Friday night, so we have to be able to make plays in the passing game if we want to achieve our goals.”

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