As he prepares for his eighth grade season at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Sean Clifford continues to rise to the challenge.
Already standing 6 feet tall, Clifford is coming off an eye-opening 2011 season. Starting three games for the eighth-grade Eagles and six games for the seventh graders, the promising quarterback passed for 1,375 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I learned a lot from those (eighth grade) games last year,” Clifford said. “It really helped me and I’m looking forward to using that experience this season.”
Ohio bylaws prevent eighth grade football players from suiting up with the high school team, so Clifford will continue honing his skills and using his superior height to his advantage.
“I have such a nice view from being tall,” Clifford said. “It helps me to be able to see over the line and read the defense.”
Having good size helps Clifford pick apart defenses, but he is also a standout athlete with a strong throwing arm and he knows football inside and out.
Clifford has been attending NFA/QBA camps for the past six years, and he has learned some of the finer points of playing quarterback from Coaches Will Hewlett and Reid Roe.
“It’s been great working with Coach Hewlett and Coach Roe,” Clifford said. “I’ve learned a lot from them and they have been the two most helpful coaches and inspiring coaches I have ever had.”
Clifford started playing QB in flag football when he was in kindergarten. He advanced to tackle football in third grade and has never thought of changing positions.
In addition to gaining size as he’s played, Clifford has added impressive arm strength.
“My arm is pretty powerful,” he said. “I can throw pretty far, about 45 yards right now, and I’m working to get my arm even stronger.”
Before he heads into high school football, more work needs to be done.
“I’m pretty accurate passing the football, but I still want to work harder to get better with that,” Clifford said. “I’m working on my footwork because in the past it’s been a little slow. But now I’m getting faster on my drops.”
Precise throwing mechanics and good footwork are key for Clifford because he is a classic drop-back passer.
“I really like to just sit back in the pocket,” he said. “It gives me a chance to read the defensive coverage and find the mismatches.”
Considering his style, it’s hardly a surprise Clifford has tried emulating Peyton Manning.
“I love his style of play,” Clifford said. “I like how he can sit back in the pocket and figure out the defense and pick them apart.”
In addition to football, Clifford is a star basketball player, and he led Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy to a 20-0 record and conference championship last year.
He also led the AAU Cincinnati Royals to a third-place finish in the Ohio state tournament.
If it came down to choosing one sport, Clifford wouldn’t take long to make a decision.
“Definitely football,” he said. “I like how it’s a team sport and if you don’t work together, you can’t win. I’ve always played football and I’ve grown up as a football player. It’s in my blood.”