Derby touches up its smooth-running machine
Brandon Clark was in his mid-20s, full of fire and undoubtedly fresh-faced when he was hired as Derby’s football coach in 2006.
Now in his eighth season, Clark is 34 and still full of fire, but he bears the signs of the stress that comes from rebuilding a program into a perennial Class 6A contender.
Gray hairs sprouted quickly during his first season, a stressful one-win year that ended a 17-game losing streak. Even as Derby improved to 5-5 in 2007 and then 10-2 with the first of four trips to the 6A semifinals, Clark bore the brunt of the pressure he placed squarely on himself.
“I grew a lot of gray hairs, and I was in the hospital twice for my heart during my first couple years,” he said. “I will be on heart medicine for the rest of my life. I had irregular heartbeats. It was stress.”
Clark’s stress level has diminished in previous seasons, and so has the amount of time spent yelling.
Derby, which has played in the past two 6A semifinals, heads into the season as a state championship favorite. It’s a team so talented and focused that no major overhauls are needed.
Clark rarely needs to get on his players during practice because they police themselves.
Clark no longer must yell in the weight room. Those days of screaming during practice until he lost his voice are mere memories.
“I yelled about every minute,” said Clark, who still yells in games. “Most of it was effort, doing the right thing, listening.
“After a while, we had a class come in and they knew what they wanted and they kind of led and led and led. And the freshmen see the seniors, and if a kid is slacking, the seniors and juniors usually get on the kid before I have to.”
Clark might yell at times during practice, but it’s usually about a minor detail. Most other issues are handled by 42 seniors who relish their role.
“Coach doesn’t have to yell,” senior safety Travis Young said. “We have leaders. We hold someone accountable.… We keep people in line and leaders step up. It’s nice not to have Clark harp on everyone.”
Senior tight end DeAndre Goolsby, the most highly touted area player with offers from Florida and Ohio State, laughed when asked whether Clark yells as much.
“Definitely. Not even close,” Goolsby said. “Broken plays, misreads, he’d really get after us. But we’re going to help everyone that plays a position. We get out there on them about the little stuff that the coaches don’t catch. We try to better everybody.”
Derby has a special group of athletes. There’s experience and talent wrapped up in multiple players.
Goolsby (6-foor-4, 235 pounds) was an All-Metro selection as a sophomore. He’s got great hands, but he also is an outstanding blocker.
“Unfortunately for him, we’re a run team,” Clark said. “He helps us out on the block and … when we open it up, he’ll help us out tremendously because his catches will be big catches.”
Running back Tyler West is a four-year starter. He’s fast, physical and has put on about 20 pounds.
Senior Jeremy Dunham filled in at quarterback as a sophomore due to injuries, and played at receiver in 2012 before he was hurt. He’s a proven passer who can run, and he knows the offense.
Senior safety Travis Young battled injuries last season, but he also played as a sophomore and is a threat at returner with his 4.4-second 40-yard speed.
Then there’s senior linebacker Jose Delgado, a staple of the defense and an All-Metro selection last season.
“You can run away from Travis, throw away from Travis, but Jose is in the middle for us. He’s a stud,” Clark said.
Derby also has a strong offensive line, including two-time All-Metro selection Cole Hansen.
“A lot of our guys came back,” West said. “We lost some, too, but our backups were almost as good.
“We have some holes, but we’ve got those patched.”
The Panthers have the pieces to contend for a title, and they’ve been so close. Many of the returning starters remember well the pain of both losing to Heights in the semifinals in 2011 and then falling to Hutchinson in 2012 after the Salthawks snatched the win following a two-point conversion.
“They were highly disappointed; they truly believed they would win it,” Clark said of 2011. “It got those sophomores hungry. Then we were a couple plays away from making it to state last year. These kids, they’ve been to the state semifinals twice, and they’ll do whatever it takes to put themselves in position to get there.”
And if someone slacks off, there’s going to be a Panther to right him.