ENNIS — Fishing was a great passion for Bob Cleverley, but his biggest passion was football. He started the 8-Man All-Star Football Game, now known as 'The Clev', to showcase players who maybe weren’t big and strong enough to make the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
Coaching the Ennis Mustangs for 38 years, it was never about wins or losses for Cleverley. He cared most about developing young men.
“It was important to him because of what it could offer young men," said his daughter Valerie Cleverley Richards. "It could offer them an opportunity to learn from someone besides their parents. A chance for some discipline, for some good old-fashioned hard work, being part of a team atmosphere.”
Everyone has a story about Bob Cleverley.
“My mom was like, ‘All your dad said was get this kid off my football field,’” Richards said of a time when she happened to run on the football field only to get trampled by the players when she was a child.
Talking to anyone who knew Cleverley, he was the kind of coach, teacher and parent that truly made an impact on anyone that was in his life.
“I can talk about the game, Bob Cleverley all day long,” said Andy Willett, who played for and coached with Cleverley. He also played in the 'The Clev'.
However, for Cleverley he just wanted his students and athletes to be the best they could be in whatever they chose to set their hearts on.
“Be educated, be involved, be informed," said Richards. "He wanted people going forward, giving back, making a difference in their communities and the lives of their families.”
On the field, he brought out the best in his team, bringing two championships home to the town of Ennis.
“He had a way of motivating," Willett said. "I’ve never been around a person like that since. I don’t know what it was, he had some magic. You’d run through a brick wall for him.”
“You wanted to play for him," Willett added. "You wanted to please him and that’s obviously a good sign of a coach if you’re upset with yourself if you’re disappointing him.”
What made Cleverley successful was his ability to identify players and where they would best fit on the team.
“I believe that’s why he won a lot," Richards said of her father. "He could sense leaders. They might not be the best football player, but they could be the leader of the team and get everybody else to buy into the concept.”
Willett knew Cleverley his whole life. His dad, Jay, was Cleverley’s assistant coach for many years. Andy played under him and even coached with him after he graduated college. Bob was like his second father. About 14 years ago, Cleverley called and asked Willett, who is an attorney, to draft up his will after a routine surgery showed he had adenocarcinoma cancer.
“I went up there, I walked in there and he said, ‘Andy, it’s fourth and long, it’s not looking good.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to fake the punt.’ That’s how he was," Willett said with tears in his eyes. "He lived another six or nine months, maybe. That’s the story. Just awesome.”
Cleverley fought the cancer to spend those last precious months of his life with his grandchildren.
“Very confident man of faith," said Richards. "Confident where he was going in this world. He just wanted as much time with his grandchildren that he could have. He got 10 months.”
But it was in those 10 months the Ennis legend heard from many players on just how big of an impact he had on their lives.
“A lot of his former students and players got to tell him what a difference he’d made in their lives," Richards said. "The most common overriding theme was, ‘Coach, I realize now that I’m old that you were teaching me about life, not just football.’”
Though he’s gone, his memory will always last through the people of Ennis, his family, former players and even referees, and especially through the Bob Cleverley All-Star Game.
“The older you get the better you were," said Willett. "Those stories, they last forever. They get more embellished of course. It’s fun to play in them. It’s a treat. These kids that get to play in it, it’s a very special thing for them.”
And Cleverley will always be in the forefront of people’s minds that he had an impact on.
“He just hits me every once in a while. I’ll be in a situation like, 'What would my dad or Cleverley do and how would they handle this?' He’ll always be there,” Willett said.