Football Preview: Strath Haven’s Clancy has been around too long to look ahead

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> For a team that’s won two state championships, at one point ripped off 94 straight District One wins and features Delaware County’s all-time coaching wins leader, the Strath Haven Panthers always have high expectations.

In 2015, that won’t be any different. But coach Kevin Clancy, ever the veteran, will never look that far ahead. He won’t predict anything. He won’t talk about the Central League. He claimed not to know who was on his team’s schedule past Pope Weekend. Around here, the old cliche reigns supreme — one game at a time.

“Our expectations are day-to-day,” said Clancy after an August scrimmage against Sun Valley. “In other words, we’re trying to get better every day as a team. We don’t want to look too far down the road, we just want to try to play a little (better) every day.”

Strath Haven returns six starters on both sides of the ball from the 2014 team that finished 5-6. The program hasn’t made the postseason since 2011 and hasn’t won the Central League since 2010. To reach those heights this season, the Panthers will rely on their depth along the lines and at wide receiver.

The secondary, the backfield and quarterback positions will all be relatively new. Clancy, not in his first rodeo, knows what it takes to win. Through camp, his team has things it can improve on.

“You win in high school football by playing great defense, being good with the kicking, and then run the ball on offense,” Clancy said. “Work to do in all three. We have work to do in all three.”

But what he has seen is the right mental approach and effort from his players. In previous years, Clancy and his coaching staff would have to round up kids to get them to go to practice, or help keep them focused during drills.

Now, the senior leaders take care of that.

Strath Haven running back Van Bobo tries to make a leaping grab of a pass during preseason workouts. Bobo is one of the top returnees on offense for the Panthers. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
Strath Haven running back Van Bobo tries to make a leaping grab of a pass during preseason workouts. Bobo is one of the top returnees on offense for the Panthers. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

That’s led Clancy to believe that once this team figures itself out, good things can happen.

“The attitude of the kids in camp has been excellent,” Clancy said. “Do we need to get better? Yes. But their attitude and their work ethic is excellent, and if we continue down that process, I think we’ll be a pretty good team at the end of the year — barring injuries.”

Multi-faceted senior Javon Springfield and senior running back Elijah Crew will be interesting players to watch offensively. Injured wide receiver/defensive back Roy Chung and linemen Pete Deeb and Shane Mulhern were all voted senior captains.

That’s about as far as Clancy would go with camp standouts.

“They’re playing like captains,” Clancy said. “We’re very pleased with their work.”

Those guys are the big reason why Strath Haven has seen improvement during camp. Clancy has a group that listens, that’s attentive and that’s doing what’s asked of them. Aside from Sam Petrovich, a 6-5, 250-pound collegiate prospect, Clancy doesn’t have an enormous amount of next-level talent.

The Panthers will have to win by doing the little things right. So far, so good.

“It looks like they’re going to be together as a team,” Clancy said. “That’s the main thing I’ve seen — and a willingness to work. Is there a kid who’s going to wind up being an all-state player? Michigan hasn’t come in here and recruited.

There’s a lot of good players, a lot of good hard-nosed kids.”

Strath Haven hopes that’ll be enough to compete in the Central League, where it won’t be able to avoid the usual powerhouses — Haverford, Ridley and Springfield are all on the schedule.

Mention those teams, and Clancy shakes his head.

“Too far, I’m trying to win the opener,” he responded. “I can’t think beyond one game.”

But there is optimism at Strath Haven, optimism that this could be the year to get the program back on track.

Optimism that it could make some noise this year. But Clancy always shuts it down. The veteran knows the season is long. The league opener against Penncrest isn’t until Sept. 18. So, “playoffs” is not a word you will hear him speak.

“That’s always a goal you want to get to, but that’s too far out for me right now,” Clancy said. “I’ve been around too long. If I start thinking (about that) right now, I’m kidding myself.”

Clancy knows the season could go in a number of different directions, especially before a meaningful snap has occurred.

“This team could be outstanding or it could be,” Clancy said before trailing off. He stopped himself. He paused.

Then returned to that old cliche.

“One day at a time,” Clancy finished.

This story appears in the Delco Times Football Preview, available on newsstands Friday.

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