Damion Clemons might not be the biggest football player around, but Larkin’s 5-foot-5 running back figures to be the center of attention whenever he is on the field this year.
A hand injury limited Clemons to only six games as a junior, but he still managed to make a major impact by racking up 831 total yards and seven touchdowns on his way to All-Upstate Eight River recognition.
“It’s not going to be a big surprise to anyone that we have a running game,” Larkin coach Mike Scianna said. “We have Damion Clemons, he’s tough and everybody in the Upstate Eight already knows that. If I’m coaching against us, I’m stopping that kid first and then I’ll start worrying about the other kids.”
Larkin’s roster is loaded with speed and athleticism, so there is plenty for opponents to worry about. The big question is whether an untested offensive line will be able to create room for the skill position players to run.
Senior Quentyn Jackson is the top returning player up front for the Royals, but how quickly the team’s other linemen come along will likely determine whether Larkin can improve on last year’s 2-7 finish and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“We’re probably going to go as our offensive line goes,” Scianna said.
Senior receivers Donte Bonds and Jarelle Shipp are two players to watch as they move into expanded roles after helping Larkin’s 400-meter relay team qualify for the state track meet last spring.
The offense is once again in the hands of Kemmern Blalark, a senior who returns as the starting quarterback with hopes of making good on his potential as a dynamic playmaker.
“If you get a dual threat out of your quarterback, that’s tough on any opponent,” Scianna said. “(Blalark) shows flashes of genius and then will kind of take a step back. He’s got to know his part and how important his temperament is because the other kids feed off him as the quarterback.”
Leading the way on defense is senior Alex Duran, another returning All-UEC River player. The defensive back was a disruptive force last year when he posted 78 tackles, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two blocked punts.
Senior linebacker Mario Randazzo is another key returner to a unit that will also get important contributions from Jackson on the defensive line and Clemons in the secondary.
Now in his fourth season at Larkin, Scianna feels a special connection with this year’s group of seniors, who arrived as freshmen in his first year at the helm. The Royals have about 45 players on the varsity roster this fall, which is a marked improvement from years past when players in the Class of 2014 were forced to play up a level due to a lack of numbers in the program.
“These kids have a little chip on their shoulder because they were forced to play up and schools didn’t take it easy on them on the sophomore level,” Scianna said. “They want some payback.”
2012 record: 2-7
Coach: Mike Scianna (8-19 in 4th season)
Players to watch: RB/DB Damion Clemons, sr.; DB Alex Duran, sr.; OL/DL Quentyn Jackson, sr.; QB Kemmerin Blalark, sr.; LB Mario Randazzo, sr.
Aug. 30 at McHenry, 7:15
Sept. 6 vs. West Chicago, 7:30
Sept. 13 x-at Elgin, 7:30
Sept. 20 x-vs. Geneva, 7:30
Sept. 27 x-at Streamwood, 7:30
Oct. 5 x-vs. Batavia, 1:30
Oct. 11 at Bartlett, 7:30
Oct. 18 x-vs.St. Charles North, 7:30
Oct. 25 x-vs.St. Charles East, 7:30
x-Upstate Eight River game