Prep football: Clesceri’s versatility giving Fenwick lots of options

R.J. Clesceri’s football plate is mostly full, sometimes fuller than he remembers.

The Fenwick High School senior is a starting slot receiver, punt returner, kick returner and punter for the Falcons this season. Clesceri is busy enough that an extra duty slipped his mind during a recent game.

“I was technically supposed to go in at holder, but I forgot,” he admitted. “I haven’t played holder at all this season, so (Jordan) Rucker ran out there and did the hold and everything was fine. He covered me.”

Clesceri is an impact player wherever he goes for Fenwick, which is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Greater Catholic League Coed North Division heading into Friday’s Senior Night game against Purcell Marian.

“I don’t know if there’s many people I’ve coached that are as versatile as he is,” Falcons coach Dan Haverkamp said. “He can do pretty much anything we ask of him, especially on the offensive and special-teams side of the ball. He can play quarterback. He’s seen the field at running back.”

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Clesceri has 19 receptions for 322 yards and three touchdowns as part of Fenwick’s receiving corps, which includes 6-2, 180-pound senior Thomas Vogelsang (24 catches, 499 yards, six TDs) and Rucker (16 catches, 251 yards, two TDs), a 5-8, 170-pound junior.

The Falcons have elevated their passing game under Haverkamp. He brought more of an aerial mentality from St. Xavier, even though Fenwick has the GCLC North’s leading rusher in senior Jack Fessler (131 carries, 1,115 yards, 15 TDs).

“The hardest part, especially when Jack’s having the kind of nights he’s having, is figuring out how to get those receivers enough touches to let them make plays,” Haverkamp said. “They’re all very dynamic and bring a different element to the game.”

He said the Vogelsang’s size makes him a matchup problem for opponents, and Rucker brings quickness and elusiveness in the open field. Clesceri is somewhere in between.

“I don’t want to undersell his speed by any means,” Haverkamp said. “But because of his poise and abilities as a route runner, he’s kind of a possession receiver that can still beat you over the top.”

Clesceri was a first-team GCLC North receiver last year with a modest 21 receptions for 267 yards and a TD. He’s already improved on those numbers in 2018, and that was among his goals.

“With Coach Haverkamp coming in, we’ve definitely been more pass-oriented to help spread out our offense. It’s something I’ve never seen since being here as a freshman,” Clesceri said. “But I feel like it’s really paying off for us because we’re hitting big plays in the air and then that’s allowing Fessler to do his thing on the ground. So we’re all put together.”

He said being a return guy is one of his favorite aspects of the game.

Clesceri is averaging 19.8 yards on kickoff returns and 6.8 yards on punt returns, and he’d like his numbers to be better in both categories. The key to success on returns?

“You’ve got to be confident in finding holes,” Clesceri said. “You’ve got to be patient because sometimes the holes might take a minute to develop, but as soon as they’re there, you’ve got to burst right through them. If you try to go too quick, you’ll just run into the other guys.”

He’s not playing any defense at this point because he’s either a starter or a backup in the offensive skill positions.

“It’s tough to sit here and say, ‘Well, go rep defense too,’ when you’re already repping three different offensive positions,” Haverkamp said.

Clesceri has been a standout punter this year, averaging 40.4 yards per boot and dropping 13 of his 29 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Junior Drew Thiery is his long snapper.

Clesceri takes that role seriously, even though you might call him the accidental punter.

“My sophomore year, we had Alan Nix doing our punting,” he said. “He went down in Week 2 with a broken shoulder, and we didn’t actually have a backup punter at the time. Coach (Tony) Klaber, our special teams coach, just comes running over to the sidelines and is like, ‘We need a punter,’ so I told him I’d do it.

“My first ball was like 35 yards and had some spin, and ever since the position’s just stuck. (Before that) the extent of my punting practice was pre-practice messing around. I take pride in it. I’m working to get better at it every day.”

Said Haverkamp, “It’s not like he’s doing it by fluke. Sometimes you’ll see somebody with good punting numbers and they’re not getting fielded and rolling for 40 yards. For the most part his punts have been fair-caught or not returned for a whole lot of yards because he’s had good hang time. He’s really a weapon for us back there. He’s probably making me punt more than I otherwise would.”

Clesceri is one of 20 seniors on the Falcons roster. He expects Senior Night to be an emotional time.

“There’ll definitely be some tears,” he said. “It’s all really coming in full circle that my season’s coming to an end and this is the end of football for me, so definitely a sense of urgency to make the most of these last few weeks.”

“I was very lucky to inherit this senior group,” Haverkamp said. “They’re very talented and great leaders. We’re going to try to get them all on the field Friday and let them have some fun.”

Friday’s game

What: Purcell Marian (4-3, 1-3 GCLC Central) at Fenwick (5-2, 3-1 GCLC North), 7 p.m.

Where: Krusling Field, 4855 State Route 122, Middletown

Series: Fenwick leads 11-1 and has won the last 11 meetings, including 36-6 in 2017

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