CLARKSBURG, W.Va (WV News) — Jayce Clevenger is Liberty football.
Beginning 2023 as a running back, tight end and linebacker, he plays all of the “tough” positions.
“Right now, we’re working on offense,” Clevenger said of how early practices have gone for the Mountaineers. “Being physical, that’s Liberty football. You have to be physical all of the time. We’ve never had speed; we’ve always had power. Holding on the ball, you can’t lose if you fumble.”
It’s a mantra that’s been spoken to the team throughout head coach AJ Harman’s tenure. Grit, toughness and, specifically, whatever it takes.
Harman says Clevenger is one of many senior examples to bring that back to the field in 2023.
“There’s kids that have been in the program for four years, and they know the expectations that we have,” coach Harman said. “We have a whatever it takes motto. The ones that buy in are the ones that have success. No one cares about stats or names in the paper, they just want to win.”
Clevenger’s 2022 season was one of early-season and late-season success.
He began his year with an 80-yard performance on the ground against Elkins. Clevenger found two rushing touchdowns in the matchup, averaging nearly four yards per carry.
He added a 13-carry, 99-yard performance against South Harrison in week two, Clevenger added a 40-yard rushing touchdown in that contest.
Clevenger would see a bit of a drought statistically until a 76-yard performance against Berkeley Springs where he found a 21-yard rushing touchdown.
He ended the season with a 53-yard showing on 14 carries against North Marion.
This season, Clevenger could add to his receiving statistics as his secondary position, tight end, saw him getting looks in the passing game as well.
Clevenger’s best game through the air came against Lincoln as he had four catches for 44 yards.
“I’m feeling good,” Clevenger said of the team. “I think this year, we’re going to be a pretty physical group of kids. We’re not going to have the speed to blow everyone away, but we’re going to be able to get yards. That’s all you need.”
The focus, though, is still around the run. Clevenger, now a senior, is likely to be the featured back throughout the season.
“We’re always going to have a run first mentality,” coach Harman said. “That’s who we are. We want to play good defense, be sound on special teams and limit our mistakes. That’s what the best teams do.”
Early practices for Liberty have set sights on establishing that offensive potential with the rush.
“Ball carrying, hitting holes and getting four yards at a time,” Clevenger said of Liberty’s style of play.
Funnily enough, Clevenger finished last season averaging 4.42 yards-per-carry — 438 yards and four touchdowns on 99 carries.
Defensively, Clevenger will serve as linebacker in 2023. While already a leader as a senior, he’ll also be a point of communication for defensive looks.
“Our defense is going to be our strong point,” Clevenger said. “We’ve got a really strong defense. A lot of them are coming back from last year. We didn’t really have a big group of seniors. I think we’re going to be solid.”
Liberty allowed over 300 points as a team last season, nearly 30 per game. The sky is the limit for improvement.
While the team fell in its last four matchups last season, the 2023 campaign could be a chance to bring back a group of seniors and underclassmen that have had significant playing time in tough matchups.
It’s a boost in experience and communication
“I feel like we have some good leaders,” Clevenger said. “We have six who started last year and a few more who have really good potential. Our underclassmen are showing signs of leadership. We can do well.”
Liberty last made the state playoffs in the 2019-20 season, one year before Clevenger took the field as a freshman.
He, along with the rest of the senior class, hold that as the hallmark of a good season in their final year with the Mountaineers.
“2023 playoffs, that’s our goal,” Clevenger said. “I haven’t gotten to see the playoffs since I’ve been here. That’s our biggest goal this year.”
Liberty opens its season on August 25th with a week one matchup with Elkins, the same team that Clevenger saw a season-high of rushing yards against in week one of 2022.