Danville’s D’Mauriae VanCleave wins Mr. Football

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, January 25, 2018

D’Mauriae VanCleave is Mr. Football.

For the first time in Danville football’s prestigious history, the Admirals have a Mr. Football award winner.

The award, given to the top football player in the state by the Associated Press, is the top honor a football player can receive in the state of Kentucky.

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“It really motivates me to keep going and it shows me that anything is possible,” VanCleave said. “Because at the beginning of the year, I never thought that I could have been even a candidate for Mr. Football, and I won it. It just shows me that I can do anything I want to do if I want it.”

Add the award to VanCleave’s incredible season: He led the Admirals to the Class 2A State Championship, winning championship game MVP honors on the way. Class 2A Player of the Year. Advocate-Messenger Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-area for three straight years. Best of the Bluegrass All-Star.

“I’ve seen D’Mauriae grow so much as a person into a young man from the time he was an eighth-grader when I first met him till now,” Danville head coach Clay Clevenger said. “I’ve seen his mindset change from a kid that kind of sat back to now, he’s going after things, he’s working hard to earn things. I think that’s as gratifying as anything.”

VanCleave finished his career with more than 3,000 receiving yards and over 1,000 rushing yards. He scored 73 touchdowns and had 16 interceptions, including six this year.

He said his team absolutely helped make it possible — every year, the Ads took one step closer to a state title.

“We made it one step further every year, and I think each year we just got smarter and just bought into the plan that we were given by the coaches,” VanCleave siad. “The fans, the administration, it was a team effort. It wasn’t just me or the quarterback or one guy, it was a team effort.

“They mean everything to me. My eighth grade year was coach Clevenger’s first year at Danville. So my freshman year coming in, he was still kind of new. I’ve gotten to grow with him and the rest of the coaching staff as well since freshman year. It’s a family-oriented team, it’s something we believe in and bought in to what they told us in practice. It just paid off.”

The award being Danville’s first is special — and a bit of redemption for some former Admirals, Clevenger said.

“It’s all really, really cool,” Clevenger said. “Obviously the first Danville player for this award, I think that’s just a huge honor. I think it’s some redemption, there’s some years there where I think Danville guys got the short end of the stick. There’s some redemption for the history of the award.”

VanCleave is the third from the county to win the award, joining Boyle County’s Jeffrey Duggins (2001) and Lamar Dawson (2010). He’s the fifth from the area — Lincoln County’s Jeremy Simpson won in 1993 and Dennis Johnson of Harrodsburg won in 1997.

Clevenger said that VanCleave already etched his name into the Danville history books with his performances this year, but this cements his high-school legacy as one of the best to ever play for the Admirals.

“There’s always, I feel like at Danville, there’s a generational-type player,” Clevenger said. “For me, there was Donnie Redd when I was younger, then Chester Ford, then Kelvin Turner. I think he’s put his name right there in that legacy. He’s going to have the Mr. Football title next to his name forever. D’Mauriae VanCleave, Mr. Football.

“He doesn’t understand that yet. But I think he will, it’s one of those things that in 15 years, that’s how people in town will refer to him. That’s going to be something that he’ll have to adjust to, because for a kid as talented as he is, he’s never really seeked the spotlight. He’s humble, he’s quiet. He doesn’t even like to do interviews, I have to make him. It’s going to be a life-changing experience for him.”

VanCleave agreed and said he hadn’t really thought about kids now wanting to be “the next D’Mauriae VanCleave, Mr. Football” but said he’s blessed to leave something for future players.

“It’s all happening kind of fast,” VanCleave said. “Coach Clevenger, he brings his kids to practice and while we were practicing, they would be to the side, acting like they were us playing pickup games. We know that there’s younger kids looking up to us. Me as an individual, I know there’s younger kids looking up to me because when I was young, I looked up to people and wanted to be like them. I’m just blessed to be able to leave a legacy and set an example leaving Danville High School.”

When he was younger, he said he looked up to Tryston Ford, a similarly electric player on both sides of the ball.

“I really looked up to Tryston Ford, I really liked his game,” VanCleave said. “He was an overall athlete, he played basketball, but when he was on the field, his game reminded me of what I wanted to be. He just brought energy and he was electric. I looked up to that when I was little.”

VanCleave could see more college offers roll his way after winning this award, but the senior is happy with his commitment to Wofford, a Football Championship Subdivision school in South Carolina. He committed on Jan. 15, just two days after his visit.

“As of now, I’m pretty comfortable with my commit to Wofford,” VanCleave said. “They made me feel at home and I feel really comfortable there. But any offers, it’s just another blessing for me.”

It’s a “dream come true” for VanCleave to have his name and his school receive the honor.

“It makes me happy, my family happy, my teammates happy,” he said. “It opens up eyes for Danville’s program. I’m just happy to do that for my school.”