Bald Eagle Area coach Jesse Nagle only needed to watch a few minutes of tape to realize that Gage McClenahan would blossom into an impact player.
McClenahan, now a sophomore, glided on the field even as an eighth grader. During a summer practice back then, he was always two steps faster than his opponent — and he played with an intensity not often found in players his age.
So, as Nagle and the freshman football coach later sat near the bleachers to watch offseason 7-on-7s, it didn’t take long for the first impression of the Eagles’ varsity coach to be validated.
“We were sitting there, and he (freshman coach) looked up at me and said,’ Dude, you don’t see this kid very often,’” Nagle remembered.
McClenahan immediately moved up to varsity last season and played a critical role on his team as a freshman — and he’s embracing an even bigger role this season. Last year, he led the team with 28 catches for 264 yards, and he added 12 carries for 92 yards.
This year, the staff is putting him in more of a position to make plays. Instead of cornerback, he’ll slide over to safety to better utilize his playmaking ability. He won’t be limited to wide receiver on offense; he’ll play both halfback and slot.
“We’re going to give him the ball,” Nagle added. “That’s no secret.”
Said quarterback Jordan Jones: “He’s a very important piece to us. We’re going to need him if we’re going to be dominant.”
The 5-foot-7, 165-pound athlete showed signs of explosiveness during his rookie campaign. In his first-ever high school game, he caught five passes for 77 yards against St. Joseph’s. In Week 2, he burned Philipsburg-Osceola for a 42-yard rush. And, on defense, he wound up with four interceptions and racked up at least a half-dozen tackles on three occasions.
Nagle isn’t exactly sure just how high McClenahan’s ceiling is — but he knows it’s up there. The two-way player accepts most instruction with a simple nod. When Nagle texted the speedy player over the summer to let him know the wanted to get the ball in his hands more often, McClenhan simply responded back: “OK, I’m down for that.”
“I like offense, I do,” McClenahan said, saying he prefers it to defense within earshot of his coach. “I know he doesn’t like to hear that, but I like the ball in my hands. I feel like I can do a lot of things.”
McClenahan is one of the fastest players on the team — “Definitely top 3,” wideout/defenisve back Derek Henry said — and his path to high school stardom was carved out several years ago. When BEA went up against State College during the last offseason, Little Lions coach Matt Lintal commented on a few players to Nagle.
And when he complimented McClenahan and his playing style, he wasn’t prepared for what Nagle told him next.
“When we told him he was a freshman, he about fell off his chair,” BEA’s head coach said with a laugh.
McClenahan said he’s embracing the changes this season. He prefers safety to cornerback because it’ll keep him involved more in the defense. And his teammates certainly don’t mind giving the ball to one of their playmakers more often.
Nagle saw this all coming a few years ago. And he’s eager to see just where McClenahan finishes the season.
“We knew he was going to be an impact player right away,” Nagle said. “He’s going to be an impact player for four years here.”
Bald Eagle Area 2017 Football Schedule
Fri., Aug. 25: at Troy, 7 p.m. (at Alparon Park)
Fri., Sept. 1: vs. Philipsburg-Osceola, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 8: at Penns Valley, 7 p.m. (at Penns Valley)
Fri., Sept. 15: at Chestnut Ridge, 7 p.m. (at Chestnut Ridge)
Fri., Sept. 22: vs. Central, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 29: at Tyrone, 7 p.m. (at Gray/Veterans Memorial Field)
Fri., Oct. 6: vs. Huntingdon Area, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 13: at Clearfield Area, 7 p.m. (at Bison Stadium)
Fri., Oct. 20: vs. Jersey Shore, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 27: vs. Bellefonte, 7 p.m.