Coming off a one-win season two years ago, the University Academy football team broke out for six victories last season. As a result, they gained confidence, which coach Ryan Heffley said has already carried over this time around.
“These kids have a little swagger now,” Heffley said. “They work hard, don’t complain, they’re more responsible, more accountable and just better to be around.”
The Gryphons went 6-5 last season, which included a victory against African Centered in the Missouri Class 2 district playoffs, after posting a 1-7 record the year before. A big part of that turnaround was Division I prospect Najee Clarkson, who anchors the team as a defensive tackle.
“He is the heart of the team,” Heffley said. “Everyone turns to him, and he is why we go.”
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He is not the only star on the defense, however. He is joined by four-year starter Malik Abdullah, who is also a defensive tackle and three-year starter Nosa Eke who plays middle linebacker.
“We’re far ahead of where we were last year at this time, so we’re feeling pretty optimistic,” Heffley said. “We just have to avoid the injury bug this year.”
While University Academy has a lot of talent, the one thing it is missing is depth. Heffley said the team only has about 25 players right now, but the encouraging thing is that he has had 15 or more players come to the weight room each day ready to work.