CLAYTON — The Cleveland High football team dressed out in helmets, shoulder pads and hip pads last Thursday for a typical practice that included hitting..
Most area high school teams have a light practice on the Thursday before game days, going out in helmets, shorts and T-shirts, but Rams coach Marc Morris believes his team hits better on Friday night if they work harder on Thursday.
I dont think wed tackle or block worth a hoot on Friday if we didnt practice hard on Thursday, Morris said.
The Rams most basic principle is that the team should give great effort all the time. There is never time for an easy walk-through.
Junior running back Isaac Martin said he tries to play hard all the time because he cares so much for his teammates. They deserve his best, he said, no matter what the conditions are.
I love these guys, Martin said before the Thursday workout. And they love me. Some of these guys are seniors. They deserve for me to play as hard as I can so they can have a great year.
Martin, who leads the area in rushing with 184.7 yards per game, may have to lead for a while from the sidelines. He injured his knee in Fridays 47-21 win over South Johnston. The injury still is being evaluated.
But the Rams have handled adversity before. There attitude is no matter what.
Earlier this year, Cleveland trailed North Lenoir 16-0 before Martin scored three late touchdowns and two two-point conversions for a 22-16 win. Two weeks ago, Cleveland trailed Erwin Trition by 23 points in the fourth quarter before eventually losing 43-40.
Martin believes there is only one way to play, and thats with all of your heart.
Thats just Isaac, Morris said. Whatever he does, he is going to do it with all he has.
Martin didnt play football until he was in the seventh grade when he joined the team after his speed was noticed in physical education classes. Two years later, he was the starting tailback on Clevelands first football team, a club that played only junior varsity competition.
At first, he just wanted to get to the edge, Morris said, referring to running outside. But he had learned to run it up inside now.
He not only has changed his mentality, but he has transformed himself physically.
He weighs 195 pounds and is the strongest man on the club with a 325-pound bench press and a 600-pound squat. He has run 100 meters in 10.9 seconds and clocks in at 4.35 in the 40-yard dash.
He is just as outstanding in the classroom where he has a 4.28 overall grade point average despite working an after-practice job.
But Morris said Martins biggest strengths are attributes that cant be measured. How do you quantify things like desire, heart and love?
Football is more than a series of games to Martin. He sees each game as a chance to give back something to his football family.
You have to play as hard as you can, he said. You dont want to do less than your best.
Even if youre injured.