clifton

Marc Gutierrez returns for his senior season after a 2016 year that resulted in all-state recognition.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

There’s something to be said for making your own way.

Sure, there are athletes who are born to be football players. Guys who are 6-3, 230 pounds with a mixture of speed and muscle. Some people just have all the luck.

But in the lower classifications of Texas football, there are a lot of athletes who have to grind to get to a championship level, putting in extra hours when the lights go off in the locker room and the music stops in the weight room.

Clifton all-state running back Marc Gutierrez is a perfect example.

It wasn’t always this way. Gutierrez had to earn the title of feature back for head coach Chuck Caniford’s offense, and when he got his shot as a sophomore, Gutierrez hit the ground running, so to speak.

At that time, Gutierrez was a short, 150-pound up-and-comer with only the bumps and bruises from running scout team as a reminder of what it’s like to compete against the varsity. As he was making an impression in his first few games as a sophomore, a high ankle sprain sidelined Gutierrez, momentarily halting the back’s budding career.

“It was an unfortunate injury, knowing the work he put in to get there,” Caniford said. “When he got back, he didn’t miss a beat.”

Gutierrez racked up several 100-yard games towards the end of that season, playing a big role in Clifton’s playoff push that eventually ended at the hands of state runner-up Franklin. It would be a game that Caniford and his staff wouldn’t forget.

“We took it on the chin that night against Franklin,” Caniford said. “The thing I remember most is he was over 100 yards easily — probably closer to 150. But it was the way he ran the ball that night that solidified our thought that this kid has a chance to be pretty special.”

So Gutierrez hit it hard the summer before his junior year, entering the offseason with the goal to make his body stronger, knowing his head was in the right place after his short but rewarding experience with the big boys.

“After my sophomore year, I knew I could hang with these guys because I wasn’t playing that head game anymore,” Gutierrez said. “It helped going against juniors and seniors and realizing some skills that I didn’t know I had yet and get a chance to show what I’ve got.”

Enduring a rigorous three months of training and conditioning the summer before his junior season, Gutierrez set a goal to get bigger and stronger than the year before.

“Marc had a great summer, putting on probably at least 10 pounds of muscle,” Caniford said. “He did a really good job of getting his body ready for that season.”

The preparation paid off. Gutierrez forced his name in the conversation as one of the better running backs in Central Texas, rushing for 1,975 yards and 27 touchdowns, including an eye-opening 306-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 35-21 win over Triple A Academy on Oct. 28. His achievements that season garnered him second-team all-state honors, leading the Cubs to the playoffs for the third time in as many years.

“It was a great year,” Gutierrez said. “I put in long hours and did what I had to to succeed.”

Though not the biggest or fastest runner, Gutierrez prided himself in never giving up on a play, constantly keeping his legs moving until the whistle blew.

“He’s not a shake guy, more of a downhill type of runner,” Caniford said. “He has really good vision and can make subtle moves to fake a guy out or to change an angle. He’s so strong and hard to tackle and you have to put a hat on him and not try to arm tackle.”

So what can the Cub running back do for an encore his senior year? Gutierrez doesn’t really have time to think about numbers. His final summer offseason of his high school career was filled with workout after workout, trying to get better for a team that has high hopes in 2017.

“He’s put on more muscle this offseason, probably another 15 pounds and done it without losing any speed,” Caniford said. “He’s not a tremendously vocal guy, kind of just does his thing. What he does in the summer really makes him more of a leader by example than anything.”

Caniford hopes a good offensive mixture of running and passing can take the pressure off his feature back.

“We are doing more things to counter teams off him in the passing game, so I would anticipate bigger runs out of him this year,” Caniford said.

Added Gutierrez: “We put in extra work in the offseason. (The upperclassmen) are putting what we have learned in the past to use and letting the younger guys know they can also lead. We want to show these younger guys the way.

“Be better than the day before — that’s what coach has taught us. I owe so much credit to our offensive line, because the big boys up front get me to where I need to go.”

Gutierrez’s quiet leadership qualities are homegrown. Remembering where he started as a freshman, Gutierrez uses those memories of the tough times as a younger player as a learning tool. Staying humble and confident, he expects a fun final ride for Clifton.

“I got beat up (as a freshman),” he said. “But I got up every time, stronger than I was the play before.”

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