By Jeff Nations
BERRYVILLE -- Sean McDonald is eager to take on a heavier load for Clarke County High School's football team this season.
McDonald, the triggerman at starting quarterback in the Eagles' single-wing offense, has never been shy about running the ball just as often -- if not more frequently -- than passing it. But with the graduation losses of starting running backs Josh Dulaney and Kasey Lake off last year's 12-1 state quarterfinalist team, McDonald has been preparing to do even more in the running game this season.
After averaging about 15 carries per game last season, McDonald is hoping to up that workload to about 25 carries per contest this season. A rising senior and two-year starting quarterback, McDonald feels it isn't so much pressure that is driving him to perform so much as an obligation.
"Not so much pressure -- I feel like it's my duty to step up and do the best I can," McDonald said. "If that means getting 25-plus carries a game, then so be it. I've prepared myself over the offseason, physically and mentally, to get ready for it. If anyone has to do it, I'd rather it be me."
McDonald had that in mind as soon as the Eagles' playoff run ended last season in the Group 2A state quarterfinals with a 21-14 loss to Brunswick. McDonald hit the weight room with a vengeance, earning the coveted Platinum Iron Eagle award by lifting in excess of 1,500 pounds combined (four different lifts). He's one of only four Platinum Eagles on the squad, and the only non-lineman to accomplish the feat.
All that work made for a bigger and stronger quarterback -- McDonald enters his third year as a starter about 30 pounds heavier. At 6-feet, 3 inches and 230 pounds, he hopes to withstand plenty of hard hits in exchange for those extra rushing yards this season. Last season, McDonald was the Eagles' second-leading rusher with 761 yards on 122 carries. He completed 46 of 93 passes for 773 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He has worked very hard in the offseason," Clarke County coach Chris Parker said. "In the weight room, he's been to speed camps, he went to college camps over the summer -- I think at least six -- we did 7-on-7s. I mean, he's really worked hard to be the best football player and athlete that he can be."
The motivation to excel is simple -- McDonald wants to help the Eagles advance even further than last year's ground-breaking team, which moved deeper into the postseason than any previous squad ever at Clarke County.
"It definitely puts a fire in our belly," McDonald said. "We felt like we were state competitors last year, didn't get as far as we wanted. Obviously the 10-0, the 12-0 was nice, but ultimately that wasn't our goal and it's still not our goal.
"When we step on the field, it's strictly business. We know what we have to do, we know what it takes to get there. But now we just have to make those extra couple games to really cement us as the best team in Clarke history."
To make that happen, McDonald will likely need to put together his best season yet. Already an accomplished dual-threat quarterback, McDonald aims to make life distinctly uncomfortable for opposing defenses this year.
"I'd consider myself a dual threat, definitely," McDonald said. "I want them obviously to not want me to throw the ball because of my arm strength, and I also want them to be hesitant to give me enough space to run the ball. Obviously I'm a big guy, so if I do run the ball I think I have the ability to get more yards than maybe someone who's not my frame."
Predictably, McDonald has been cautioned not to try and do too much when he's running the ball for the Eagles this year.
"There's definitely some caution involved in being a dual-threat quarterback," McDonald said. "Obviously they don't want me to get hurt, but I think they know it's kind of in my nature and instinct to want to go after those extra yards."
McDonald is also eager to make his mark on the defensive side this year. He's not slated to start at safety, but he's expecting to see more time on that side of the ball this year.
Wherever McDonald is -- directing the huddle on offense, bolstering the Eagles' secondary on defense or even just encouraging from the sideline, he'll be a leader for Clarke County again this season.
"He's come into his own as a quarterback," Parker said. "He's definitely one of the leaders of this team. I think his example in the weight room and how hard he works, I think kids look up to him. The old expression, the field general, he's definitely a field general. And he's an intelligent kid in the classroom and out here on the field. He knows what's going on and he can help other kids."
McDonald is optimistic, despite the graduation losses of so many key players off last year's team, that this year's squad can take that next step and maybe even more as they work to play into December for a spot in the state championship game.
"I think the biggest thing we needed to do was learn how to complete the games," McDonald said. "Clarke had never made it that far -- it's the longest season we've ever had and it takes a toll on you. So I think this year we knew we really had to prepare ourselves mentally, especially, and physically. I think we did that well."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com