Senior quarterback Clayton Uecker does not have fond memories of how last year’s football season ended for St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Neither do his Fighting Irish teammates.
Chagrin Falls defeated St. V-M 30-12 in a Division III regional final at Bedford.
Uecker and the Irish (10-2) are hoping for the desired result against the Tigers (11-1) this year when the teams square off at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division III regional final at Solon.
One major difference is who will be starting under center for St. V-M.
Kevin Besser started last year, but he left the game due to injury after putting together one of the best seasons for an Irish quarterback.
Uecker was his replacement, and he wasn’t totally ready after rehabbing his own injury.
“Last year Clayton got injured and it kind of set him back with his development,” St. V-M quarterbacks coach Anthony Boarman said. “We felt like we threw him into that situation last year against Chagrin Falls and he wasn’t prepared.
“Coming into this season, I felt like he used how he performed in that game as a motivator. A lot of people used that game as a gauge of how he would be this year. He wasn’t making the right reads and was kind of timid in that situation. He wanted to show people this year what he could do and I think he has proved a lot of people wrong.”
Uecker has done just that in a record-setting season that includes most touchdown passes in a career (29), in a season (29), in a game (six) and most passing yards in a season (2,472) at St. V-M.
“He has emerged as a quarterback,” St. V-M coach Dan Boarman said. “Every week he has gotten better. The nice thing is that Clayton has a quarterback’s mind, and what I mean by that is he may throw an interception, but he moves on. That is what you have to be as a quarterback. He doesn’t dwell or mull over it. He just moves on.”
Uecker, 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, tossed a school-record six touchdown passes in last week’s 54-14 win over Hubbard in the regional semifinal at Austintown Fitch. Uecker and five other players, including Besser last year, had thrown four touchdowns in a single game.
“He is a kid that doesn’t get rattled,” Anthony Boarman said. “It is kind of weird. Absolutely nothing seems to rattle him. He is a happy-go-lucky kid and has an attitude that is perfect for a quarterback. He is always ready to play and focused, but he never takes anything too serious and makes the game bigger than what it is.”
Besser previously held season records for passing yards (2,324) and passing touchdowns (23), and career passing touchdowns (28).
“Every week it gets easier and easier for me,” said Uecker, who has completed 147-of-238 passes this season. “Just getting more playing time makes a big difference. You get used to being out there and making your reads every play. You calm down every week a little bit more and more, and I think that slows the game down.”
Senior center Nick Karipides anchors the St. V-M offensive line that also features junior Derek Whiddon and senior Derek Pierog at tackles and seniors Bryan Wisor and Tom Paolucci at guards. Line coach Provie Tomei said three of the five have 4.0 or higher grade-point averages.
“Practicing with the starting team makes a really big difference,” Uecker said. “You get used to how everyone runs their routes and you get your timing down. Also, last year I broke my collarbone [on the left side in a junior varsity game against St. John’s (D.C.)]. I was out for a long time before that game with Chagrin Falls. That was one of my first weeks back.”
Uecker said he played in a total of five games last year; three on JV and two on varsity (Week 1 against Cincinnati Purcell Marian and Week 13 against Chagrin Falls).
Uecker started this season competing with junior Aaron Bushner for the quarterback position. The two platooned until Bushner suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 2 victory over visiting Walsh Jesuit.
“We were planning on using both quarterbacks,” Dan Boarman said. “Aaron brought another aspect to the offense. He has wheels and can really run the ball.”
Uecker has taken a majority of the snaps, though sophomore Vince Lockett is the wildcat quarterback when offensive coordinator Daniel Boarman Jr. elects to use that formation.
Seniors Jordan Hargrove and Fransohn Bickley are Uecker’s top receivers in an offense that also includes seniors Kevin Alexander, Joe Weber, Mike Prueitt and juniors Parris Campbell and Corey Whaley.
“Our linemen really stepped up a lot this season,” Uecker said. “They are undersized against basically every defensive line we have played. They stepped up and I have not been sacked many times. They are doing a fantastic job. All of our wide receivers and running backs are very talented and good playmakers. I just get the ball to them and let them go to work.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.