Matthew and Noah McClelland have the type of relationship one would expect from brothers separated by just two years in age.
They often tease one another and argue but are also protective of each other. Most of that carries over to the football field, where the two play for Arete Prep in Gilbert. But there’s also a certain level of chemistry they share when playing, one that has led to both breaking numerous school records and Matthew being one of the nation’s top passers.
“All summer long he was in the weight room training with a trainer,” Arete Prep coach Cord Smith said. “He’s stronger, taller and faster but more than that, he basically went from middle school football to varsity football last year. So now he has a lot more experience.”
Matthew, a sophomore quarterback for the Chargers, took the 1A by storm last season as a freshman. He passed for 2,559 yards and 31 touchdowns, only throwing nine interceptions.
Noah, a senior, was one of Matthew’s top targets last season, as he caught 32 passes for 562 yards and seven touchdowns. That has carried over in bunches this year, as he has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 15 touchdowns.
The senior has had a few dropped passes this year, but he insists none of them are his fault. In fact, according to Noah, all the blame goes on Matthew. Another aspect of their brotherly love.
“If I miss a pass it’s his fault,” Noah said. “I know that it’s really my fault, but it’s fun to blame him.”
Smith describes Noah as a silent leader, who lets his play on the field do the talking for him. He believes Noah’s reception against Mogollon in the season-opener reflects that.
Noah was quiet during pregame, letting other seniors on the team do most of the talking before Arete took on Mogollon, who is one of the top teams in 1A. But on one of the Chargers’ first few plays, Noah scored on a long pass from Matthew. The touchdown sparked the Arete Prep sideline.
Though Arete went on to lose to Mogollon, Smith believes it was a sign of what was to come for the Chargers this season.
“Noah will be missed after this season,” Smith said. “Both he and Matthew lead by their play. We did seven or eight passing leagues this summer and it was always Matthew to Noah, Matthew to Noah, it was almost like he knew exactly where he was going to be.”
Arete has gone 4-2 since the loss to Mogollon, playing against some of the best teams the 1A Conference has to offer. Smith has seen his team grow each week, especially Matthew.
As a freshman, Matthew was the typical pocket-passer. He rarely relied on his legs to make plays and would often throw the ball away if he felt pressure. This season, however, Matthew has used his speed to break free in the open field, adding another element to Arete’s already high-powered offense.
“I think I’m more confident now that I’ve grown a little,” Matthew said. “I’ve been able to use my speed and my passing has also gotten better. I trained a lot during the summer.”
Along with 1,764 passing yards and 18 touchdowns this season, Matthew has also rushed for a team-high 1,057 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is ranked among the top-10 passers in the state, regardless of division, and No. 3 in the country for 8-man teams.
Part of Matthew’s success both through the air and on the ground is due to Arete’s spread offense.
Fields for 8-man teams are slightly narrower than those for traditional 11-man teams. But with only eight players to account for on defense, three of which linemen, Arete is able to spread out the opposing defense to give room for Matthew to operate both in and out of the pocket.
“Last year I knew he was a passer,” Smith said. “But the first couple of games Matthew started scrambling and running. He surprised all of us. Now we want him to get out of bounds and not cut back into traffic because he’s our quarterback and we don’t want him to get hurt.
“But that’s the thing this year, if he doesn’t see it, run.”
Smith expects Matthew’s production to continue to increase as the season goes along.
The Chargers are currently the ninth-ranked team in the 1A Conference. 12 teams make the postseason.
Last year, Arete won its first playoff game in school history, a feat that Smith said the young school had been building toward. They aspire to be like those they compete with in the East Region of the 1A, which features teams that have either won several state titles or has made deep playoff runs in recent years.
The team recognizes that they are building toward something great, especially Matthew, who still has two more seasons to bring Arete Prep its first state championship.
“We all have to come together, I think we can beat any team, really,” Matthew said. “I look at my own success and base it off the team’s success. If my team is doing well, I will do well and vice versa.
“We all have a goal to win a state championship and make a deep playoff run and I think that’s helped.”
But for now, they remain focused on the present. Arete will play its final regular-season game of the season against Lincoln Prep on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Lincoln Prep in Chandler. It’s the last chance the Chargers have at improving their record in hopes of hosting a first-round playoff game for the second consecutive year.
They realize they are on the verge of something great for the school, it’s just a matter of time for them to put it all together. But as long as the McClelland brothers are able to keep up their production on the field, Smith is confident they can play with anybody they line up against going forward.
“It stings when you’re that close, but it shows us that we can compete,” Smith said. “We want to learn to finish games.
“I think a good team learns to peak at the right time and that’s what we are trying to do.”