D190813 Claunch Elkmont (copy)

Elkmont senior Luke Claunch will be a leader for the Red Devils, who have only six seniors. [DAN BUSEY/DECATUR DAILY]

ELKMONT — The first time Elkmont senior linebacker Luke Claunch went to jiujitsu lessons, he was caught off guard. The gym he trained at threw him into the fire. He had to learn the drills quickly before pairing up with someone to execute them.

Claunch wasn’t swayed from the style of martial arts despite his initial unfamiliarity with the concepts. He went to lessons four days a week for two months until summer football started.

“It made me more conscious of my body,” Claunch said. “Like if I leave my arm in a vulnerable spot, someone is going to take advantage of that. It’s the same thing with football. If I get focused on driving someone back and forget about my hands, someone can get their hands under mine.”

Claunch described jiujitsu as a bottomless barrel. He said he would never fully learn everything there is to know, but he liked working at it.

It was the same with football. He started playing when he was in middle school. He says he wasn’t very good when he first started.

At the time, Elkmont coach Duane Wales was the middle school coach. Wales was impressed with Claunch’s dedication to getting things right.

“Even in eighth grade, he was really interested in football,” Wales said. “He was very attentive, which is impressive for a kid of that age. He wanted to be the best he could. I had a good feeling with his ability to care about the game that he was going to be a good player.”

Claunch has developed into one of the more important players for the Red Devils. He started at linebacker and played some fullback. Elkmont went 2-8 last season in a tough region that featured Class 4A runner-up Deshler.

The Red Devils are attacking the 2019 season with something to prove. Wales is in his third season with three wins under his belt.

Wales’ dream was to be head coach at Elkmont. It’s his alma mater. Claunch has been one of the people that has been in his corner since day one.

“I knew he would be the varsity coach eventually,” Claunch said. “I didn’t know if it would be before or after I graduated, but he told us he got that job and that was exciting to me.”

In turn, Wales’ belief in Claunch resonated with him when he was in middle school. He has been more than pleased with Claunch’s progress since then. It all goes back to Claunch’s belief in hard work.

“Conflict draws out character,” Claunch said. “If you work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone, you’ll look up and you’ll be glad that you worked hard.”

The partnership of those two has Elkmont optimistic for the upcoming season. It’s been four seasons since the Red Devils won more than two games.

They won eight games in 2014, seven games in 2011, eight games in 2009 and nine games in 2008. The rest of the last 10 years have been mostly losing seasons.

Under Wales, the players seem ready to go with Claunch being one of their main leaders.

He is one of six seniors that is leading a team of young players.

“We’re going to rely on him heavily,” Wales said. “We’re going to have to have him play really well at linebacker. We have a young team, so we’re going to need him to get guys in the right position on defense.”

Elkmont opens its season against Clements on the road. It will be the 58th meeting between the two teams. The Red Devils currently trail in the series 28-29.

Beating the Colts will be step one in giving Claunch his first winning season in four years with Elkmont.

“We have a real opportunity to win there,” Claunch said. “As for the rest of the season, opportunities multiply as you seize them."

—matthew.speakman@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460. Twitter @DD_MSpeakman.

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