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Cluley establishes himself as Tribe QB

  • Letting it fly
    Letting it fly  QB Steve Cluley gained 25 pounds over the summer, a strategy he says helped improve his arm strength.  Photo courtesy Tribe Athletics
  • Nice form
    Nice form  QB Steve Cluley launches a pass during last year's game against James Madison University.  Photo courtesy Tribe Athletics
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Things weren’t going the way anyone on the William & Mary sideline – least of all coach Jimmye Laycock and quarterback Steve Cluley – wanted.

The Lafayette Leopards led the Tribe, 19-9, at halftime of the 2014 Family Day game at Zable Stadium. Cluley had thrown eight times, completed just two, for 97 deceptive yards. Seventy-three of them had come on his first toss of the game, to Tre McBride.

He’d rushed twice for three yards, and been sacked twice.

At halftime, Laycock tweaked the offense a bit, adding plays where Cluley had the option to run or pitch the ball to a running back.

Run, Cluley did, nine times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The Tribe ran away with the second half, outscoring the Leopards, 24-0, to win, 33-19.

That’s also the day Cluley ran away from whatever competition existed for the starting job at quarterback.

{{youtube:medium:center|FNCHaU-Qoh0, Tribe broadcaster Jay Colley chats with Steve Cluley}}

“That second half was the first time I felt like a leader of the team,” the 6-foot-3 junior said. “It was the first time I’d ever made a big impact on a William & Mary football game. I had played decent in the first couple of games, but it was the first time I made the plays, made the throws, made the touchdowns that needed to be made.

“That was the game that set me on the course for where I’m going now.”

Literally, that would be to Charlottesville with the rest of the team for a 3:30 Saturday afternoon encounter with Virginia. The game will be telecast on ESPN3. Tribe fans can also listen to the game.

The Tribe competes on a different level than the Cavaliers, stocking their team with far fewer scholarship players. Virginia is considered a heavy favorite – much the way things were in 2009 when the Tribe upended Thomas Jefferson’s “other” university, 26-14.Steve Cluley

While Cluley admits that the biggest difference between the teams is depth, he sees Virginia’s first string against W&M’s first string as an even duel.

“I think we’re going to be able to move the ball,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to finish drives ... Going into Charlottesville, we got to finish drives, put drives together, get in the end zone (as opposed to settling for field goals). That’s the only way we’re going to win the game.”

Once last season ended, Laycock sat with Cluley and laid out a plan in which the quarterback would take on a larger role, especially off the field. Set the example for others, Laycock told him. Be one of the people on this team the rest look to for guidance and inspiration.

“When you get to his level, you’ve got to start bringing some people with you,” Laycock said. “He has certainly done that. He has gotten more confidence, and he has exuded that confidence to his teammates without being overbearing. He’s a person who wants to take on added responsibility. We challenged him. We’ve continued to challenge him and he’s doing a good job.”

{{youtube:medium:center|L8ViSMf66Lo, Jimmye Laycock discusses 2015 Lafayette win, looks ahead to Virginia}}

That process began last summer. He was chosen one of three captains for offseason workouts. He was one of the first to arrive for workouts. He was one of the last to leave. Others watched film of last year’s games; Cluley watched more, and for longer periods.

“You make sure everyone knows we have (passing drills) at 5 o’clock,” he said. “If I see something that isn’t right, it’s taking that person aside and saying, ‘That’s not how we’re going to do that,’ and having them respect me. Setting my foot down.

Cluley’s weight is listed as 215 pounds this season, 25 pounds higher than a year ago. He awakened at 4 most mornings last summer, got in an early weight-lifting session, ate five or six meals daily and quaffed protein shakes by the gallon.

“Last year, I was beat up pretty bad, and I couldn’t lift (weights) during the spring,” he said. “When you’re strong you have a lot of muscle. You can be faster, more explosive. My arm strength has improved. Weighing more, it’s not as much fun for 240-pound linebackers to hit me because I’m not some little string bean getting pushed over. I knew my frame could carry the weight I’m at now.”

Cluley, a New Jersey native who is majoring in kinesiology and health sciences, was heavily recruited by Tribe Colonial Athletic Association rivals Maine, New Hampshire and Stony Brook. His mind was set on attending school up north. William & Mary was the last school to offer him a scholarship and the last visit he made.

“I came here and fell in love with it,” he said. “Academically, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

Laycock says he talks to recruits about the fact that William & Mary has traditionally played one game a year against schools that compete at the highest level of NCAA football.

“I want competitive people,” he said. “I want people who want that type of challenge.”

Clearly, the coach believes Cluley fits that bill.

“Steve’s been in some games now,” Laycock said. “I feel pretty confident that he’ll handle himself well.”