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'Cookie' doesn’t crumble

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Justin "Cookie'' Clinton is taking a big bite out of his last high school experience.

The former Martinsburg standout, the only quarterback listed on the North roster for the North-South Football Classic, may get run a little ragged this week but he'll be soaking up each and every moment as his final game at quarterback nears.

"[It's] busy,'' smiled Clinton during a break from practice for Tuesday's North-South media day festivities. "I give it my all every play and every down at practice.

"I love it especially throwing to new teammates and getting to know how they are. These past three days I've been laying in my bed thinking about it, the last full year. I've been able to play football and give it my all.''

The North-South Classic is the culmination of an amazing senior season for Clinton. The annual all-star event for high school seniors takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Laidley Field. 

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Clinton was thrown to the wolves last year, starting for the first time at quarterback for two-time Class AAA defending state champion Martinsburg. Brandon Ashenfelter, a North-South participant in 2012, guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back state titles while Clinton played wide receiver.

"It's big, especially throughout the community,'' said Clinton. "It all started back [last] summer. I got a couple of my receivers and we just went out and threw a little bit and went over the plays and I just got it down and felt comfortable with my steps and drops.

"It wasn't a really big adjustment. I still have the ball in my hands. You've got to take your time and be patient. I felt like I was ready to be a quarterback and get another state championship.''

Clinton didn't flinch at the responsibility heaped upon his shoulders and developed into an accomplished field general, leading the Bulldogs to their third straight AAA championship. Martinsburg's feat of three consecutive titles has only been accomplished once before since the 3-A classification was formed in 1958 when Charleston High won three in a row from 1968-70. 

"I felt like my whole season was motivation,'' Clinton said. "The community was wondering, 'What is Martinsburg going to do? How are they going to react? Will they be able to three-peat?'

"In our heads we're thinking the community is depending on us to win another championship. It all started with our coaches. They did what they had to do to get us ready and it was our job to get it done.''

Clinton, who was a Class AAA all-state first-team selection as a utility player, finished second in the voting for the Kennedy Award, which is given annually to the state's top high school football player. He passed for 1,571 yards, completing 61 percent (97 of 159) of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Clinton also added 1,333 rushing yards, averaging 9.1 yards per carry, with 18 scores.

It has been evident so far during North-South practices that Clinton isn't leaving anything on the field.

"He had a little stomach issue [Tuesday] morning with dehydration,'' said North coach Jodi Mote of St. Marys. "That was our intent coming into camp, putting the ball in his hands. We'll wear his feet out on Saturday. He's a scrambler so I'd like to get that run-pass threat and get the ball to our playmakers.''

Mote said Clinton is a great quarterback and an even better person.

"Just special,'' he said. "He's such a special kid. A kid like that with the success he's had, he could come in here and say, 'You can't teach me anything,' or 'This is how we do it,' but it's been totally opposite.

"I just can't say enough about him. The kids really look up to him and he just has an outgoing personality. He's not the type of kid that 'it's all about me.' Great to work with [and has] a great team concept.''

Clinton said he is cherishing this week on the West Virginia State campus in Institute, where the all-stars live and practice twice a day.

"It's amazing,'' he said. "Everybody has something to bring to the table. You've got to be ready. I've played against some of [the other players] and I've played with some of them. We're getting to know each other. It's a good opportunity to play on Saturday. You've only got one game to play. You've got to give it your all.''

Saturday's game, however, won't be Clinton's swan song in the Kanawha Valley. He is headed to the University of Charleston this fall to play wide receiver.

"I'm supposed to be starting this year,'' he said. "I've got some shoes to fill. I just want to take advantage of it. I love the players. It's like a family. I'm going to continue my journey.''

And what a trip it's already been.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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