[tps_title]Chester Clippers [/tps_title]
Skilled, experienced Clippers feel their time has come
CHESTER >> When Ladontay Bell took over at Chester four years ago, he inherited a program with some holes. But rising from the middle-school ranks was a promising generation of players. And one day, Bell hoped, those incoming freshmen would become established veterans in his program.
That’s come true, reflected in a six-strong contingent of captains upon whom Bell happily bestows responsibility for the Clippers’ growth. Both players and coach appreciate the parallels of their journey, which brings a togetherness Bell hopes will translate on the field.
“Those guys were with me when I first got this position,” Bell said. “What you see is development, the progression of the program. These guys have been in the program for a while and they know what’s expected. That’s why I see them as leaders.”
“Our coaches always stress that our captains, since we all came in together, all in middle school, all came up together, we set the tone and everybody follow us,” said receiver/defensive back Malik Langley.
Chester’s strength is particularly concentrated in the skill positions. The two leading rushers from last year, Langley and junior Anton Sterling, are back. Malik and twin Malachi Langley mean that five of the top six receivers from last year are back, including Hakeem Bacon, Rafiqe Hilliard and Aasim Muhammad.
That depth is paired with a change under center — gone is multi-year starter Tahree Fuller-Bryan, in is junior Dymiere Stevenson — and a new scheme on offense. It puts a huge onus on the skill-position guys to be leaders, vocally and by example.
Stevenson played in two games as a sophomore, attempting four passes. Developing a rapport with the receivers has been a big focal point of the offseason.
“It’s us trying to learn each other, because he didn’t throw that many passes,” Malik Langley said. “We’ve been working out in the summer, going to workouts by ourselves, throwing routes and trying to get timing down right and trying to get our chemistry better.”
“We try do everything to make him comfortable and try to make it seem like he’s been there before,” senior lineman Darnell Jones said. “So we’re going to try our best to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.”
The defensive secondary will be an area of strength. Hilliard is the standout of that unit, the 5-9 corner particularly ready to undertake the challenge in a Del Val that features a pair of teams returning their starting quarterbacks in Chichester and Penn Wood.
“We like teams that like to pass a lot because we like to lock it down,” he said. “It gives us more opportunities to get interceptions and turn it to offense.”
Tahmir Reese will join the other wide outs in the secondary. Darron Miller, a 6-3 sophomore, and Ja’Kai Boergertey lead the linebacking corps, with Jones and Isaiah Powell-Gates the anchors of the line. Bell anticipates a bevy of sophomores stepping up into the rotation.
There’s a four-game gauntlet in the middle of the Clippers’ schedule, beginning Week 3. For four consecutive weeks, Chester will be on the road: at Bartram, at Roman Catholic (more a neutral site at the Conshohocken A Field), at Chichester and at Penn Wood. The stretch finally relents with the Oct. 12 homecoming game against Coolidge High of Washington D.C.
It’s a formidable test. And while it’s too far down the road for Bell to do much about it now, he and the staff are working to keep the team healthy.
That means a lot of offseason focus not just on the weight room but other fitness activities the staff hopes will spare injuries, from experts on stretching to yoga sessions.
“We just want to make sure that the kids stay healthy,” Bell said. “And when we look at those away games, we need unity, but we need to be healthy. If our first unit can stay healthy, we can do some serious damage.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
Malik Langley, Multi-Position >> An outstanding athlete like his brother Malachi, Malik carries the energy of a player a team can look to. A contributor since his sophomore season, how the Clippers get him the ball (as a receiver, running back or gadget packages) will help define their season. “It feels like I’ve been in big moments all my life,” he said. “I’ve always been thrown into the mix and playing with older guys. Now that I’m older, it just feels like a regular season.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
Rafiqe Hilliard, Defensive Back >> The Chester secondary, while experienced, is undersized. But they hope to make up for it with tenacity on the ball, and Hilliard is the tone-setter in that regard. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions (with Key’onn Goodman) and was third in solo tackles with 50.
By Matthew DeGeorge, email@example.com