Last year the Chiefland football team ran all the way to the Class 1A state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Madison County, 37-0, to finish 11-2.
As a team, the Indians finished the season with 3,748 yards rushing.
In 2022, Chiefland returns its top four rushers from last year’s unit which averaged 7.5 yards per carry. The foursome combined to score 36 rushing touchdowns.
Plus, the same athletes who paved the way on the offensive line, are back.
A total of 17 seniors return, along with 10 out of 11 on offense.
But none of that guarantees success this year.
“Last year we had a decent season, but we don’t want to come into this year thinking that it’s just going to be that easy again,” explained senior offensive lineman Vincent Cloutier. “We actually have to put in our work and don’t get complacent.”
The Indians will also have a new coach this season as James Corbin takes over for Adam Gore. Corbin, whose dad was a track coach at Chiefland for many years and his mom still works at the school, is an alum.
“I’m Chiefland through and through,” he said. “We all feel like we have callings and I feel like my calling is to help others.
“I’ve always lived off of the saying that if you’re not helping make someone else’s life better then you’re wasting your time. I feel like if I’m going to make somebody else’s life better, I want to make somebody’s life better in my own community, so to be able to come back to Chiefland and coach here in Chiefland, well that’s really special to me.”
Special might be the best word to define the Indians’ offensive backfield.
Clint Thomas (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) is back for his senior year at quarterback, but you will likely see him spreading the field.
He won an MVP wide receiver award at a camp in Jacksonville over the summer and also beat out a 4-star receiver to take home the MVP trophy as a receiver at a camp in North Carolina.
Corbin described him as “electric.”
Thomas, who is an athlete and can play multiple positions on offense including the slot, also had a lot of good things to say about Chiefland’s offense.
“We’re going to be hard to stop,” said Thomas, who picked up two HBCU offers after his play over the summer. “We’ve got a lot of athletes around the ball, a lot of speed, a lot of power, kind of balanced, versatile.”
Senior right tackle Kade Meeks agreed.
“If we all work together like we usually do and don’t get too big-headed, I believe we’re a powerhouse,” he said.
Thomas was most effective last year in the running game, finishing the season with 803 yards and 12 touchdowns, including one 100-yard rushing game.
However, he admitted he was a little tired the last game of the playoffs. The Cowboys shut him down by limiting him to just five yards rushing on 13 carries.
“It’s just a mind thing,” said Thomas, who mentioned he will be taking ice baths after games this year. “I didn’t know what to expect last year. I had never been on that type of stage before. Now I know what to expect. I won’t let them down this time.”
Junior running back Dakota Fisher is back after leading the team with 1,197 yards rushing last fall as a sophomore. He finished with an average of 11.2 yards per carry and led the team with 16 touchdowns on the ground.
In the spring game against Bronson, he rushed for 107 yards on only two carries.
“Outstanding running back,” Corbin said. “Being able to involve him is huge in the offense. Those two (Thomas and Fisher) really dictate how the game is going to go.”
Paul Davis, who is more of a “bruiser” at running back and also plays linebacker, played well on both sides of the ball last season.
Davis (5-11, 175) only carried the ball 45 times in 2021 but he averaged 7.8 yards per carry. Because of the offensive depth, he might be seeing more time on the defensive side of the ball.
“I like being physical,” he said. “The defense is going to be good.”
The rising senior finished second on the team with 80 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss.
Senior Junior Brown (5-9, 210), who will play running back and middle linebacker, is excited about the offensive backfield.
“Our offensive backfield is really strong,” said Brown, who rushed for 656 yards as a junior. “Our quarterback is elusive and can throw or run, anything we need him to do, so our backfield is amazing. We can pretty much run through or over anybody, so we’ll be good.”
Meanwhile, the Indians likely have one of the most talented underclassmen in the state on defense.
Defensive end Jonathan Adams (6-2, 200) made the MainStreet Daily News All-Area defensive first team last year. He had 85 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, and 12 sacks as an 8th-grader.
“The sky’s the limit for that kid,” Corbin said. “You can coach him to a point but there’s a lot of that he has that’s just God-given talent. He’s really going to be exciting to watch.”
FSU and Georgia have already shown interest in the rising freshman, so expect the interest level to get much higher.
“The youth is both a blessing and a curse,” Corbin said. “He doesn’t realize what he doesn’t know at this point. But at the same time, he has a lot of room to grow. Even being at middle school he wasn’t able to be in the weight room last year because he was on a completely different schedule than what we are here at the high school. So outside of summer workouts, he wasn’t lifting during the season.”
In Adams and Davis, they return their top two tacklers from a defense that allowed 14 points or less seven times last year.
Chiefland will compete in Class 1R-Region 4 with Bronson, Dixie County (Cross City), Glades Day (Belle Glade), Hawthorne, Newberry, Pahokee, Trenton, Wildwood, and Williston.
The Indians will go from the hunter to the hunted after last year’s run, which included a narrow win against undefeated Union County (Lake Butler) in the region final that sent them to the state semifinals.
“When you’re bringing people back the expectations are higher and that’s what you have to expect,” Corbin said. “And your kids need to expect the same thing. We made it to the final four, and that’s great, but you didn’t win it, so there’s obviously things that you can improve at.
“We can’t get complacent and think that we’re bringing everybody back, we’re going to run through it and it’s going to be the exact same thing as last year. I certainly hope not because that’s going to have you losing in the playoffs again.”
Chiefland will travel to Crescent City this Friday night at 7 p.m. The Indians will play four of their first five games of the season on the road.