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Motivated by previous losing seasons, Kennard-Dale High football looks to send its senior class out as Division II champions after a 3-1 start. ROB ROSE, @robrosesports

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Wyatt McCleary always knew he wanted to play football and do whatever it takes to help his team win. 

That’s why he traveled to Pylesville, Maryland, at age 5 to play football for the North Harford Hawks. Football wasn’t available for children that young in his area.

That's also why, despite always playing quarterback as a kid, he accepted a drastic position change when asked by his coaches four games into his freshman year. 

A new position: When the team’s fullback was injured, McCleary was asked by Kennard-Dale coach Chris Grube to switch to fullback. There was no hesitation on McCleary's part.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘this kid is not afraid to put his helmet down and he is a strong runner, let’s give it a shot,’” Grube said.

Three seasons later, McCleary is second in the York-Adams League in rushing yards through four games with 722 yards and 10 touchdowns, while averaging 10 yards per rush. The 6-foot, 205-pounder is also closing in on the Rams’ program record for career rushing yards. 

The current leader, Brandon Marousek, a 2007 graduate of K-D, finished his career with 3,264 yards. Grube said McCleary had 400 yards in his freshman year and according to MaxPreps, McCleary has racked up 2,347 yards over the past three seasons. 

Those numbers put the senior fullback roughly 500 yards behind Marousek, a number that Grube is confident McCleary will, barring injury, reach over the rest of the season. That seems reasonable, since McCleary is currently averaging 180.5 yards per game this season and the Rams have at least seven games left.

“It’s definitely been fun to watch him the last couple years, just from what he has transformed from to now,” Grube said. “To have 700 some yards only four games into the season is pretty special.” 

Changing his approach: McCleary attributes his 2019 success to a new offseason workout plan and mental approach. It's helped him nearly surpass the total rushing yards he had the previous two season in just four games. 

“I am cutting and not running right at the defender so, now I am running away,” McCleary said. “Before, I was always going after contact instead of trying to (run past defenders).”

In addition to his updated football workouts, McCleary credited also playing basketball and baseball (he has a .410 career batting average) for K-D as reasons why he has been able to sprint past defenders and possibly into the record books.

As a fullback and inside linebacker, McCleary instinctively sought-out contact in previous seasons, but through watching game and practice film, he learned to read defenses and make defenders miss. His adjusted running style was showcased when he took off for an 81-yard touchdown run against Biglerville on Sept. 6. McCleary cut back on a handoff and ran past the defense and into the end zone.

Special senior class: For Grube, McCleary epitomizes the growth of the senior class, the first group of players he has coached for four seasons after he was named head coach in 2016. The group has a special meaning to Grube and he views them as his own sons. 

“These guys are incredibly important to me,” Grube said. “The relationships I have made with them are just going to last me a lifetime. They’ve made me a better person (and) a better father. I look at these guys as my kids.”

The Rams’ seniors have not just become better friends, teammates and sons under Grube, they’ve become better football players.  

McCleary said the leaders on the team remember where the program was when they joined the team as freshmen in 2016 and use it as motivation to reach the goals they set for their final season. The Rams are off to a 3-1 start in 2019 and face a Y-A Division II showdown at unbeaten York Suburban on Friday.

“We went through being 0-10 our freshman year, so we all felt the pain of getting trampled on by every team,” McCleary said. “Now, we just use it as fire and we try to push those around us and make everyone better.”

One last shot: With the Rams coming off a 4-7 season, when they didn’t win a division game, McCleary is confident the team can compete against anyone in the division. After a 3-1 start last year was derailed by injuries, K-D is ready to make this final season for its seniors one to remember, and that begins and ends with McCleary.

“There’s no reason we can’t win every game from here on out,” McCleary said. “Everyone has got to do their job, and if we do what we’re supposed to do, there’s no reason we can’t win football games.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.

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