New head coach Claybo Varnum got his first win as Durant defeated Sumner on Friday.
Head coach Claybo Varnum has lived and breathed Durant football for years.
The field house bears his last name and he can recall cheering on the Cougars at just eight years old when they made a run to the State Final Four in 2003. He played four years of football at Durant, graduated from the school in 2011 and immediately started his coaching career there, working with the junior varsity team.
He joined Durant’s faculty as a teacher in 2015 and has continued coaching in some capacity since. In January he was named the newest head coach following an 18-year tenure from former coach Mike Gottman.
Spring football and summer workouts came and went and Durant even added a big win over Freedom in their preseason game. But the moment that Varnum said it all really sank in for him was standing in the locker room on Friday night, music blasting and players getting fired up for their opening contest against Sumner, just moments before he led the team out of the tunnel for the first time.
“Right before we ran out of the tunnel, we’re in there and the music’s playing, the kids are loud, those lights came on and I’m standing at the front of the line,” Varnum said. “In that moment it just kind of hit me. It had, but really in that moment I thought, ‘OK, this is it. This is what you wanted, this is what you pray for and you got it.’ Then running them out of that tunnel and onto the field, it had me going. From then I kind of settled in, when you’re coaching you’re just kind of in that mode, but definitely running out of the field house with the boys and onto the field, that was special. That was a good feeling for me.”
The game itself was a hard-fought win. Durant found the end zone on their first drive of the game and converted a two-point conversion to take an early 8-0 lead, but the game’s next points wouldn’t come until the fourth quarter.
Sumner finally got on the board late but a missed extra point left them trailing 8-6 before Durant’s offense came alive and scored on both of the next two drives.
Durant completed just one pass for 21 yards but tallied 276 rushing yards, led by junior running back Calub Connell (155 rushing yards and two touchdowns) and senior quarterback Marcus Miguele (85 rushing yards).
“We knew this from JV last year, that’s why we moved (Connell) to running back, but he is a gamer,” Varnum said. “He is a dude that is going to fight and claw and give you everything he’s got and he did. And so explosive, his two touchdowns were both over 25 yards. He broke the first line and he’s so explosive that the secondary couldn’t catch him so having him in that role was huge. Then Marcus too, Marcus had a great game running the ball.”
Connell is leading Durant’s backfield in the absence of starting running back Alex Daley, who is currently out with an injury.
Defensively the Cougars were supported by a wide variety of impact players. Durant totaled three sacks up front while senior inside linebackers Jacob Reed and Austin Bovee combined for 20 total tackles and four tackles for loss. Reed also added a rushing touchdown to go along with four carries for 19 yards.
In the defensive backfield, Durant snatched two scoring opportunities from the hands of Sumner with interceptions from freshman Jayden Cornelius and sophomore Jayden Forte, both coming inside of their own five yard line.
“We’re so young on defense and we’ve got great players but when you’ve got guys who have never done it under the lights before you’re nervous because you don’t know how they’re going to show up in the big time,” Varnum said. “And they played typical Durant defense. Very unrelenting. Even when we had big gains against us we’d settle down and collect ourselves, we had two giant interceptions.”
Varnum had heard all of the talk leading up to Friday’s contest. Sumner was a good team, he was inexperienced, the roster was largely inexperienced, they were coming off of a rocky 2020 season, but none of that talk mattered between the first whistle and the clock hitting zeroes.
“First of all, it felt cold from the Gatorade hitting me,” Varnum said about the moments immediately following his first win. “It was just such a relief. I’m real critical of myself and the things that I can control so this was a hard week. I was very critical of myself, of our team, of our coaches and to have that relief of seeing zeroes, to see we had won, it felt like a 1,000-pound weight had been pulled off of my shoulders. It was a really, really special feeling. Our principal came up and spoke to the boys after the game, he gave me the game ball, one of my favorite songs — Easy by The Commodores — was playing over the loudspeaker, my whole family being there, it was special. I don’t think that I could have written it any better.”