No. 7: Cleveland High football praise worries coach

cbest@newsobserver.comAugust 7, 2012 

Cleveland's Isaac Martin leaps into the end zone ahead of a South Johnston defender during a game in October 2011.

JOHNNY JOHNSON

  • More information N&O preseason football rankings (2011 record) 1. Aug. 11 2. Aug. 11 3. Aug. 10 4. Aug. 10 5. Aug. 9 6. Aug. 9 7. Cleveland; 11-4 8. Southeast Raleigh; 9-3 9. Fuquay-Varina; 10-2 10. Cardinal Gibbons; 11-2 11. Chapel Hill; 10-3 12. Cary; 9-3 13. Erwin Triton; 10-2 14. West Johnston; 7-4 15. Clayton; 5-7 16. Panther Creek; 8-4 17. Broughton; 5-6 18. Bunn; 9-4 19. Southern Durham; 7-4 20. Knightdale; 4-6

— The very thing that has everyone else raving about the prospects for Cleveland High’s football season is what has the Rams’ coach worried.

Others may have visions of a first Saturday December date in a state championship game, impressed by the 21 returning starters from a team that reached the Eastern 3A finals in its first season of varsity play.

But Cleveland coach Marc Morris has targeted his team’s No. 1 enemy as the status quo.

“Nobody’s ever improved by doing the same thing, being exactly the same team,” Morris said. “We’ve got to keep improving because you’re never getting better by being the same, you’re only getting worse.”

Morris projects potentially five new starters in the Rams’ lineup this season, saying there’s a lot of competition for several spots in the preseason. And he’s continually worried about the lack of size on his lines and developing depth at those positions.

“The main area we’re improved in is our football team experience,” Morris said. “Every thing we went through last year was a new experience for us. We were just a bunch of jayvee kids. It makes such a difference to have that experience.”

However, coming off an 11-4 season that ended with a loss in the state semifinals, there are plenty of reasons to be excited.

There’s a proven experienced quarterback at the helm. senior Tre Joyner (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) who threw for 2,281 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for another 963 yards and scoring 13 TDs on the ground. He’ll have 1,000-yard rusher Isaac Martin in the backfield and leading receivers Donqua Williams (9 TDs) and Andrew Daughtry (4 TDs) outside. Tyler Scoville is the Rams’ most-talented lineman.

Defensively, 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior Austin Jacobs (a preseason all-state selection like Joyner on some lists) and junior Dylan Caldwell (6-2, 250) are back along the line with standout tackler Holden Bohannon at linebacker.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Morris said of his team. “For our purposes, they’ve really been good about taking on one thing at a time. We dealt with our pre-practice goals, our practice goals, now we’re into our scrimmage season goals. Then will come the regular-season and conference goals.”

Another changing facet for the Rams will be their adjustment to being older high school students. Morris said that’s always a challenge as young players become juniors and seniors and suddenly have to deal with things like jobs and driving privileges.

“Plus, high school kids change so much from year to year,” Morris said.

Cleveland doesn’t have to look past the first week of its 2012 schedule to find motivation. The Rams host North Johnston on Aug. 17. North Johnston beat Cleveland in the Rams’ first varsity game.

After a loss to Triton in mid-October, the Rams didn’t lose again in 2011 until they reached the eastern finals. They averaged 40 points a game in their first three playoff games, but the season came to an abrupt end in a 64-7 loss to eventual 3A state champion Havelock in the fourth round.

“Playing a team like Havelock made our kids realize we’re still not where we need to be to win a state championship,” Morris said.

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