Published December 02. 2012 4:00AM
Montville - Montville High School senior Nick Clemons is aware that he often drives head coach Tanner Grove loco.
"During practice, he'll give me a play and I'll say it backward by accident or something like that," Clemons said with a chuckle.
Grove said: "(He) gives me a migraine as much as any kid I've coached. He's a fierce competitor. … So sometimes when I'm trying to tell him something, he's not focusing because he's thinking of a bad decision he made or a bad play."
Grove is quick to point out how valuable Clemons has been to the Indians, though. He's their quarterback, their top defensive back, returns kickoffs and punts, punts and kicks off.
Montville got to the CIAC Class M playoffs thanks to players like Clemons. The eighth-ranked Indians play No. 4 Hillhouse of New Haven today in a semifinal game at Middletown High School (5 p.m., CPTV Sports).
"Nick Clemons is kind of the kid that I always want with the ball in his hands when it matters the most," Grove said.
Montville (9-2) began the year with an experienced offensive line, but didn't return a running back or receiver with a varsity start.
Clemons took on more responsibility out of necessity while the others got acclimated. He's run for 740 yards and six touchdowns, passing for 850 yards and 10 scores.
"He was given almost every bad hand that he could be given," Grove said, "but he found a way to win."
Clemons has also been one of his worst enemies because his mistakes sometimes fluster him.
"There are moments where I've had to pull him aside and say, 'Everyone else is allowed to cry or pout or get emotional,'" Grove said. "'You're the quarterback; you're not allowed to.'"
Clemons said: "If something goes bad, I'm trying to be a leader, so I put a lot on myself and I get frustrated. Then he snaps me back into it and we're good to go."
Oddly enough, Clemons has excelled at defensive back, another position where one must have a short memory.
"Although I'm a former receiver, (defensive backs) have more confidence, or swagger, than any man on the planet," Grove said. "They believe that they're bigger, stronger, faster and better-looking than anyone else, and I think that's why he's so good.
"He just competes like crazy. When we play a team with a stud receiver, whether he's on the outside or a slot guy, Nick accepts it. … Before I even give out assignments, he already knows who he's got."
Clemons (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) had six interceptions and returned two for touchdowns.
"I'm just bigger than most receivers or corners, so that helps me out," Clemons said. "My mindset is better when I have a lot of confidence instead of thinking that I'm not doing well. The more confidence I have, the better I play."
Hillhouse (9-2) is the best team the Indians have faced this season. Its losses were to Hand of Madison (37-19), the top-ranked team in The Day of New London Top 10 coaches' poll, and No. 5 Xavier of Middletown (50-49).
The Academics are led by running backs Andre Anderson (1,221 yards rushing, 14 TDs), Harold Cooper (1,403 yards rushing, 19 TDs), and quarterback Je'Vaughn Moore (801 yards rushing, six TDs). All three started for the Academics' 2010 Class M championship team.
"The two running backs are exceptional," Grove said. "These are two running backs who can do pretty much anything on a football field, and (Hillhouse) has two of them."