Robert Clemons received a punt on his own 21-yard line early in the second quarter of his team’s victory over St. Margaret’s last Friday. The nearest Tartan defender was more than five yards away. “If they give me some space to work with, I know that there’s a chance I can make something happen,” said the senior, a return specialist.
A quick move had the first defender grasping at air. The remaining 10 didn’t fare much better as Clemons’ superior field vision, keen football instincts and just enough blocking from his teammates resulted in a 79-yard touchdown that gave the Breakers a 14-point lead.
It was the elusive wingback’s sixth career TD by return, breaking a tie with teammate and senior running back Drake Martinez for the school record. Clemons admits to having a friendly rivalry with his good friend Martinez. “We like to be competitive with each other. It makes us better,” he said.
There are six ways to score a touchdown: rushing, receiving, on a punt return, kickoff return, interception return, and fumble return. Clemons has accomplished five in his career, including a school record 102-yard interception return against Anaheim in a first round CIF win last season.
The only hole remaining in his impressive resume is a fumble return TD. Clemons has amassed 3,242 miscellaneous yards and 26 TDs in three plus years on varsity. “That’s a heck of a tool,” said Coach Mike Churchill.
Of the Breakers 29 total TDs through last Friday, 10 have been scored by six different players on defense or special teams: five on punts, three on interceptions, and one each on a kickoff and fumble. Clemons has three of those 10, as does Martinez. Nathan Lancaster, Jake Hexberg, Andres De La Rosa and L. G. Graves have one each.
Since an early age, Clemons has never shied away from an athletic opportunity. Water polo, basketball, soccer, baseball, karate, “My dad had me in every sport possible,” he said.
He got his first taste of football as a fifth-grader, playing for the South Orange County Patriots of the Junior All-American Football league. After a few tentative years, the talents that now demoralize tacklers and electrify crowds began to emerge. “Definitely my eighth-grade year is when I saw that I could be a pretty good football player,” Clemons said.
He gave up baseball after his freshman year to focus solely on his newfound love of pads and pigskin. He began playing in seven-on-seven spring leagues and attending summer skills camps to hone his game. “I couldn’t get enough of the ‘Friday night lights’,” Clemons said of the sport that has spawned a TV series and devoted followings in Texas, Florida and Southern California.
Laguna’s penchant for breaking long returns has begun to dictate opponents’ game plans. St. Margaret’s coach instructed his team to kick the ball short or away from Clemons and fellow return mate Martinez, even if it meant giving Laguna good field position. “It shows that they respect us,” Clemons said, adding, “It just gets us more pumped up.”
While Clemons’ stats and 4-plus GPA have garnered offers and interest from a number of Ivy League universities and some PAC 12 schools, he hasn’t made a decision on his future, preferring instead to focus on helping the 2012 Breakers become the best football team in school history. “To see that we’re starting to accomplish that has been awesome,” he said.
With a tie to University the only “blemish” on their record through four games, CIF second ranked Laguna takes on Pioneer of Whittier and Saddleback of Santa Ana in their next two home games, before they face 10th-ranked Estancia on the road in a crucial contest that ultimately could decide the league title. “Estancia’s been on our radar all year,” said Clemons. “Some people say it’s like a CIF championship preview.”
To finish strong, the Breakers need senior leadership and the kind of unselfish team play that Clemons, and co-captains Martinez, quarterback Larry Stewart, and lineman Spencer Andersen have exhibited this season. “If it’s scoring, tackling, blocking, whatever it is, if it helps us get the win, that’s what I’m all about,” said Clemons, who credits his role as co-captain with improving his overall play.
In his fourth year on the varsity, Clemons earned his coach’s respect and reputation as a team player last season, when Churchill asked his all-league defensive back to switch to linebacker to fill a void in the lineup. “He said ‘sure, no problem, coach’,” said Churchill. “He played out of position the whole year, and just did a remarkable job for himself. That’s one of the reasons we’re successful.”
Another reason for the Breakers success is their commitment to each other. The team’s motto is “Play hard, play fast, and play together,” said Clemons. “We know we can play hard, and we know we’re very fast, but when we play together, that’s the cool part,” he said.