2017 Football Offensive Player of the Year: Central speedster Clanton streaked his way to astounding TD rate

Central's Kyle Clanton makes a Clarke County defender miss during a punt return in their October 6 game in Berryville. Clanton is the Daily's Football Offensive Player of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Anyone who has seen Kyle Clanton take off on a dead sprint knows by now that the Central High School junior can flat out fly.

He’s proved as much on the track, where last season he was one of the fastest sprinters in the VHSL’s 2A classification and has helped Central’s boys 4×400 relay team blaze its way to two straight state titles.

If there were any questions as to how that speed would translate on the football field, Clanton has delivered visual proof for that as well. Sure, competing on the gridiron each fall requires Clanton to strap on a helmet and shoulder pads, and often he’s showcasing his speed with a ball in his hands, but for him, being “football fast” hasn’t required any real adjustment.

“The only thing different is people’s chasing you,” Clanton said with a laugh, “and I think that makes me run faster than on the track.”

Opposing defenders rarely caught up to the wiry 150-pound junior with the blazing speed in 2017, and Clanton’s performance on the football field was a remarkable display of efficiency and sheer dominance.

Including receptions, rushing attempts and kick/punt returns, Clanton touched the football 71 times for the Falcons this past season and scored 26 touchdowns, a rate of one score every 2.7 touches.

The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Football Offensive Player of the Year, Clanton, a two-way starter at receiver and defensive back, hauled in 23 receptions for 642 yards and nine touchdowns. He rushed 32 times for 398 yards and 12 scores. He scored three touchdowns among his 12 punt returns and two of his four kickoff returns went for TDs.

Clanton, who accounted for 1,640 yards, averaged 27.9 yards per reception, 12.4 yards per carry, 29.5 yards per punt return, 61.5 yards per kick return. He was named the Bull Run District’s Offensive Player of the Year, was a first team All-Region 2B pick at receiver, defensive back, kick returner and punt returner and earned second team all-state recognition (VHSL Class 2) as a receiver and punt returner.

Clanton has said time and again over the last few months that he has the easy part when he has the ball in his hands, while his blockers do the heavy lifting. He reiterated recently that it truly is that simple, adding that most of his success is due to his natural, “get up and go” speed that he uses to burst through a hole created by his downfield blockers.

“This is gonna be crazy to say, but I do think he was a step faster this year,” Falcons head coach Mike Yew said of Clanton, who earned all-state honors as a sophomore in 2016, his first at the varsity level.

“I do think he came back a little stronger and I really think he was a step faster this year. If he can do that again next year then it’s really just gonna make his senior year that much more special.”

Clanton, who said he was hand-timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash last summer, agreed that he felt a step or two faster on the football field this past season, and he added that he was eager to enter 2017 knowing he could “just blow by people without an issue.”

If opposing defenses tried to play man-to-man coverage against Clanton on the perimeter with no safety help – which happened several times over the course of the season – they were asking to get burned.

“We played Riverheads (a 21-6 Central win over the Class 1 state champs on Oct. 27), and the kid at Riverheads is very good athlete, but if he’s facing Kyle at  seven yards, it’s just next to impossible that he can flip and run with him on a dead sprint,” Yew said. “It just takes a special kid that could do that. And we felt like if a kid did that, if they weren’t somewhat open or they weren’t nine yards off the ball, then he could run by them.”

Clanton’s speed made things easy for all involved in Central’s offense, which averaged 48.5 points per game and set the school’s single-game scoring record on three different occasions in 2017. When he wasn’t streaking past cornerbacks on a go route, Clanton could take a simple bubble screen and turn it into a 70-yard touchdown, or do the same with a handoff on an end-around.

His speed played well no matter what was asked of him. Against an overmatched Park View (Sterling) squad on Sept. 15, Clanton touched the football six times and accounted for 324 all-purpose yards (an average of 54 yards per touch) and four touchdowns. In a win over George Mason on Oct. 20, he scored four touchdowns four different ways – a 35-yard fumble recovery, a 71-yard reception, a 43-yard run and a 91-yard kickoff return.

Clanton’s standout game in Yew’s eyes, however, came against Clarke County on Oct. 6, when the junior lined up in the backfield and carried the ball 11 times for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns and caught a TD pass in the Falcons’ 40-0 win.

“That’s the game that truly in my mind just jumps out, as it was a great moment and it really wasn’t glamorous,” Yew said. “The other games, he did what Kyle can do. If you give him space he’s gonna burn you, there’s no question. But in that Clarke County game we ran some sweeps, we ran back to the backside. … I think we utilized him. It was like a well-rounded game for him.”

Games featuring that type of workload for Clanton were rare, however, as a strong supporting cast – and his own big-play ability that led to quick scores and a scoring margin that often ballooned quickly in the first period – limited him to only 4.5 offensive touches per game.

Clanton isn’t worried about padding his stats anyway.

“I don’t pay close attention to the stats as much as just winning football games,” he said, “and going out there and doing my best, helping the team out as much as I can.”

He will have one more year to do that next season, as he and many of his teammates who helped lead the Falcons into the Region 2B semifinals – where they fell to eventual state runner-up Robert E. Lee – return to follow-up on the school’s first undefeated regular season in school history.

“Knowing that I have another year, we’ve just gotta get better, bigger, faster, stronger,” Clanton said. “Coming out in track (in the spring) I hope to be a lot faster than I was. That’s a big goal of mine, always.”