VanCleave leads Admirals back to state in senior season, wins Offensive Player of the Year

Published 11:08 pm Friday, November 24, 2017

Danville’s D’Mauriae VanCleave had an incredible 2016 season.

In 2017, he’s been better.

Last year, VanCleave averaged 11.3 yards per touch, picking up 1,233 yards and 14 touchdowns in 15 games. This year, he’s averaging 11.8 yards per touch, picking up 1,518 yards and 19 touchdowns so far in 13 games.

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The Admirals are 13-0, and VanCleave is a big reason why.

I think he’s just improved, he was fast last year, I think he’s probably a step faster this year,” Danville head coach Clay Clevenger said. “He did that because he worked really hard in the weight room in the offseason. He got his body built up in muscle added and he’s got more confidence all the way around.”

Over the summer, VanCleave said he ran a laser-timed 4.39 40-yard dash at a football camp at Kentucky. During a hand-timed 40-yard dash at Lindsey Wilson, he ran a 4.28.

He said he’s added seven pounds of muscle as well.

“I think I’ve gotten a lot faster and a lot stronger,” VanCleave said. “Overall team-wise, I think our bond and our chemistry is just good, and that makes me a better individual player, offensively and defensively.”

That production on offense and defense — VanCleave has 12 interceptions in the last two years and has returned three for touchdowns — make him an indispensable part of Danville’s team.

The Admirals have other weapons — quarterback Zach Thornton has added a new dimension with his running ability — and it creates an offense that hasn’t been stopped this year.

“I think he’s just a dynamic player. Obviously, when you have a dynamic player you want to get him the football as much as you can,” Clevenger said. “There’s been games when I didn’t even feel like we got him enough touches, and arguably, when you start looking  at the numbers and his production, we probably need to get him 3-5 more touches per game. But we’ve got a lot of other playmakers too on the field, and I think that all feeds in. If you double cover or put too much attention to him, you’ve got David (Walker), Jaleel (Warren) and Tanner (Ford) in the passing game and Don (Harris) in the run game. It’s kind of a perfect storm for guys to put up good numbers.”

VanCleave said the bond between players this year is stronger than last, and that’s a big reason why the Admirals think they can take the next step and win a state championship this year. They’ve got Glasgow today in the state semifinals.

“I think Zach T coming into the quarterback position helped us as a team athletically because he runs the ball more, he’s not a pocket passer, it just spreads out our offense more than we were last year, I think,” VanCleave said.

Clevenger said the leadership provided by VanCleave has taken a step up this year as well.

“He’s really working hard in practice in leading when he needs to lead from a work standpoint,” the coach said. “He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s always finishing drills and wanting to be first in drills and just stepping his game up.”

VanCleave said he and his Admirals know that any team in the semifinals will be a test, but the Admirals are confident in their ability to make the state championship for the second-straight year.

“We know coming into the game that they’re a semifinalist, just like we are, they deserve to be there just as much as we do,” VanCleave said. “We know the preparation we have to take to get there and get past there.”