Clawson head coach Jim Sparks (center) works with his team during practice. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Clawson — A large circle inside the Clawson High football dressing room exemplifies the backbone of the program.
The circle contains the names of all 26 varsity players written on cardboard pads plus the words “Clawson football” inside the old bulletin board.
If a name is outside the circle, it means that player broke the sacred circle of trust that fuels this program. If the name remains on the outside when jerseys are handed out Thursday nights, that player will not play the next day.
“Trust” and “faith,” words that drive Clawson football.
Hundreds of programs across the country will hold onto that faith in the next few weeks as the high school football season begins. For Clawson, the journey begins Friday at home against Harper Woods.
“We have one rule in our entire football program,” coach Jim Sparks said. “We have to be able to trust you.”
Keeping the faith
When that trust is broken — for skipping class, for example — the name is placed outside the circle.
“Everybody wants to get back into the circle of trust,” Sparks said.
That trust also is expected on the field.
Sparks trusts his players to make the correct reads and develop team chemistry in a spread offense in which junior quarterback son Ty Sparks — his son — has the OK to change plays on the fly. Ty Sparks often does that. Last year, he changed an estimated 40 percent of the plays at the line.
And in turn, Ty Sparks has faith in all of his teammates, especially his offensive line and 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior wide receiver Marquian Johnson, one of the best players in the area.
Girl earns trust
That trust trickles down to senior kicker Olivia Paquette, the only girl on the team.
It didn’t take long for her to earn the trust.
Three years ago, Jim Sparks was looking for a kicker after losing his kicker to graduation. He turned to the boys soccer team, but since they played Friday nights, he’d have a kicker for only five games.
So he turned to the girls soccer team, and Paquette stood out.
“She is small but rugged,” Sparks said. “She was elbowing people and you could see if things did not go her way she became vocal with teammates. She is highly competitive and motivated. If she gets 89 on a test and somebody else gets a 92 she is ticked off.”
With that, Sparks placed his trust in Paquette.
And so the circle continues.
It’s all about trust ... and Clawson football.