BELLEVUE, Iowa — Among other things, Bellevue's run of four straight postseason trips has been highlighted by a blue-collar mentality, toughness and tenacity supplementing talent.
Hunter Clasen has all that in spades.
It was two years ago when the running back/linebacker burst onto the scene. After 2,000-yard rusher Peter Kilburg suffered a groin injury, Clasen rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore in Bellevue's playoff win over South Winneshiek, the first in program history.
He played the next week in a loss to Denver, rushing for 28 yards and making 2.5 tackles.
Both games were played with a broken collarbone.
"I knew I had to step up and fight through that for the team," Clasen said. "The linemen helped me a lot. They told me, 'Keep fighting through it; we'll get you the blocks and just run as hard as you can through a hole and just keep fighting.
"I knew that just because I'm hurt, doesn't mean I'm injured."
It wasn't until after the season that the coaching staff was fully aware of the injury Clasen sustained, but they weren't surprised he played through it.
"He didn’t even really let us know because he won’t let you know when he’s injured," head coach Chet Knake said. "It’s not always a good thing — I don’t promote that. If you’ve got something wrong with it and can’t play, but he’s just the type of guy that wants it that bad that he won’t let people know that.”
Still, even without knowledge of the injury, the coaching staff knew Clasen would step up when called on, having seen that type of play since he started playing at the varsity level as a freshman. He finished his sophomore year with 426 yards rushing yards and five touchdowns and was fourth on the team with 42 tackles.
"I had a high expectation because he has one very special tool and that's his motor," head coach Chet Knake said. "The kid's fearless, he plays hard, and I tell every college coach this, 'He's not the most talented kid, he's 170 pounds, he runs a 4.75, 4.80 (40-yard dash), but his motor is just bar-none. I'd put his motor up against any kid in the state.' It's truly special."
Last year, Clasen put together one of the more complete two-way seasons in Iowa. He rushed for 1,496 yards and a Class 1A-high 24 touchdowns while also compiling 73 tackles and a class-high 11 sacks.
Though the offensive numbers are fun, Clasen, who is the youngest of five brothers, doesn't hesitate when asked which side of the ball he prefers.
"I like hitting people more than getting hit," he said. "I knew right away that I wanted to be successful in the sport because it was the only time I got to hit somebody and not get in trouble because I was a crazy kid when I was younger.
"I don’t weigh a lot, but I throw my body around like I’m 200 pounds."
This year, there's even more pressure on Clasen to lead the Comets. With the graduation of three-year starting quarterback Cade Daugherty, Clasen has been asked to shoulder the load while Lucas Tennant settles into the QB role.
Through three games this year, Clasen has 523 yards, averaging 8.4 per carry, and 12 touchdowns.
He's also added 143 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver.
"I want to see what my quarterbacks can do, but when it gets tough, that's where we'll lean on Hunter," Knake said. "I want my quarterbacks to learn not to make mistakes. Throw the ball to the right people, don't turn the ball over, and that's where you'll really see Hunter help out our quarterback play."
Clasen and the Comets are looking to take another step this year, not satisfied with just making the playoffs. Last year the Comets were 8-1 before suffering a surprising loss to Wilton in the first round of the postseason. It's helped them focus during the offseason to keep improving every week to ensure they don't suffer a similar fate this year.
"We know you shouldn’t look at the past, but it drives us," Clasen said. "We know how good we are and how good we can be. The way we look at it is even though it was a loss, we know we could have won that game, we should have won that game."
Clasen doesn't want this season to be his last. He's looking to play college ball, and Wartburg and a few other smaller schools have showed interest.
But right now he's focused on helping the Comets overcome last year's heartbreak and take Bellevue someplace the program has never been before.
"We didn’t meet our expectations last year, and that’s what is driving us this year because we didn’t get to the (UNI-Dome)," he said. "This year, we have the talent, we have the experience, and that’s what driving us to keep looking forward to every week."