John Applebee thought a move might be coming, and he wasn’t surprised when the Public School Athletic League handed down its decision.
The Clinton Governors football team, which has struggled the past several seasons, were shifted from the league’s City Conference to the Bowl Conference.
To call it a demotion would be a bit harsh. What the move does for the Governors is give them a chance to rebuild and retool their program against teams with similar difficulties and similar student body numbers. It’s a move that will benefit the Governors in the long run, even if there is some sting coming with the switch.
“For what we’ve gone through the past two years, I think it’s a good move for us,” said Applebee, now in his third season as Clinton head coach.
What the Governors have gone through in Applebee’s first two seasons are two forgettable years in which Clinton has posted a combined 1-17 record, including an 0-9 mark last year. The reason for Clinton’s recent decline, Applebee said, is due to waning roster numbers.
“People don’t realize that the population in the school, the numbers have split in half from just six years ago,” Applebee said. “So the school is much smaller than it used to be, and that just happens when they break up the schools. It just happened a little bit later for Clinton than it did for some of the other schools in the Bronx.”
Two other Bronx schools — Kennedy and Lehman — endured similar difficulties on the field when their schools were broken into several smaller campuses several years ago. It took time, but both the Knights and Lions have rebounded with larger rosters and bigger win totals in recent years.
“We were in some close games last year,” Applebee said. “We were competitive, so now we just have to get the job done and get over the hump in a lot of these games this year.”
Clinton will enter its first season in the Bowl Conference with a team comprising mostly sophomores. And although they are young, Applebee likes what he has seen from his team through training camp so far.
“I think we’re very strong at the running back position,” Applebee said. “We have a sophomore named Raphael Class starting there, and he could be very good. I think we’ll also be strong on the offensive line. Our left tackle, Jovonne Henderson, who is also a sophomore, started every game for us last year.
“I think the offensive line is really solid, but we have to wait and see what they do against competition.”
Another sophomore, Dominic Melendez, will take over at quarterback, and Applebee is excited with what he has seen of him in preseason.
“He can throw the ball for sure, but we have to see how he does when he knows somebody wants to hit him,” Applebee said. “But he’s got a big arm.”
Another aspect Applebee likes about his team is its size, something that was lacking before.
“We’re much bigger than last year,” Applebee said. “Last year, pound for pound, we were probably the smallest team (in the City Conference). My quarterback, Jailen Nais, was bigger than some of our offensive linemen. This year, that’s not the case.”
One of the unfortunate side effects of moving out of the City Conference is that it will put an end, at least temporarily, to the Clinton-Kennedy rivalry. Kennedy remains in the City Conference, and there are no crossover games between the two conferences.
“I’ve been here for two years, and we played two tough games against Kennedy,” Applebee said. “It’s always great to play a rivalry game. A lot of our kids know a lot of the kids on Kennedy. We’d love to play them, so the goal here is to win some games in the Bowl and get back up to the City and get to play them again.”
The PSAL didn’t do Clinton any favors with their schedule as the Governors will play their first two games against Bayside and Tilden, two teams who were semifinalists in the conference playoffs last season.
“I’ve watched film of Bayside, and they could easily be in the upper division,” Applebee said. “There are teams in the City Conference who are not as good as Bayside.”
The Governors are “ready to work and ready to compete, for sure,” Applebee said. But their approach on how they will measure accomplishments is something that might be surprising.
“We don’t have goals, we have milestones,” Applebee said. “And our first milestone is to win the first game. Win one game, and then we’ll go from there.
“We can’t look much further than that.”