Up until the end of the first quarter, Kamaron Clopton was essentially a spectator.
All week leading up to the season opener against Tecumseh, Clopton’s role was as a scout team tailback, getting the defensive starters ready for action.
On a oppressively humid night at Leo Donahue Stadium, that changed. At the end of that night, Fort Gibson had a 17-13 win and Clopton 162 yards on 18 carries.
“Coach was like ‘next play,’ and I’m in,” said Clopton, inserted at tailback to break starter Deven Woodworth, who also starts at outside linebacker.
Ironically it was Woodworth’s strip of a Tecumseh ball carrier which set up Clopton’s first of two memorable moments. The senior busted a 41-yard run on a second and 20, and on the next play, quarterback Cole Mahaney connected with Morice Ford on a 37-yard touchdown and to get Fort Gibson within 13-10 shortly before halftime.
“Our linemen did a good job of blocking and just opened the hole, and the defenders caught me downfield,” Clopton said.
In the third quarter, Clopton took a handoff over left tackle, slid back inside, then escaped multiple tacklers on a 55-yard run to the Savages 2, setting up Mahaney’s sneak for what became the decisive TD.
“A lineman grabbed me, I spun off him, ran back to the right, then cut up the middle and juked two people out, and that was it until they brought me down,” he said.
He showed some shiftiness on that run. Tigers coach Greg Whiteley said had it not been for the numerals on their jerseys he could have confused him with Woodworth.
“They both run very similar style-wise,” Whiteley said. “He’d gotten a little in our varsity scrimmages but this was a night that would wear you out from a physical standpoint.
“Deven is so important to us at linebacker, we need to spell him. I think with what Kam showed and also having Tim Murphy back there who got some carries, I feel much better about the rotation we have at running back. We’re all right there. It’s kind of funny, I don’t know why we keep getting good depth at running back but we do.”
Clopton didn’t play last year.
“I wasn’t feeling it,” he said. “Watching my friends out there playing made me want to come back.”
He’s not sure of his role going forward.
Woodworth was the heir apparent to his older brother Tavien, who was All-Phoenix Large School Player of the Year last season at running back.
“When we get into long, nine- to 10-play drives on defense, that’s where we certainly want to give Deven a break,” Whiteley said. “We want that rotation of backs when you have guys going both ways.”
Clopton played some at outside linebacker on the JV as a sophomore but does not have a defensive role right now. So he’s more than available.
“Coach told me ‘good job, keep putting in the work,’” Clopton said.
It’s likely he’ll see some carries when the Tigers go to Catoosa this week. He’ll take his turns against the 3-3 stack defense of former Muskogee defensive coordinator David Heath. Heath left MHS to join former Muskogee assistant Jason Medrano, who took over as head coach last year.
“The challenge is going to be their outside linebackers, or really their will linebacker,” Clopton said. “He probably won’t be blocked much so it’s going to be about getting away from him.”
Catoosa lost at Pryor, 44-13, in its opener.
“That was a surprise because they looked pretty good in scrimmages against Verdigris, Tahlequah and Collinsville,” Whiteley said. “I think they’re still trying to find their identity.
“Medrano likes to throw a lot more than they did when I coached back there. Heath will send a lot of pressure, but we’re not the kind of team that will sit back there and throw 30 times so I’m not sure how much they’ll blitz. We’ll block here, there, doesn’t matter who shows up in the spot.”
And in the meantime, Clopton will be ready to find the openings.