There aren’t many teams around that wouldn’t like to have the type of consistency and success Cleveland football has enjoyed in its brief history.
Coming off its fourth 10-plus win season in five years, Cleveland, in its sixth year as a varsity program, looks ready to reload again, as rebuilding is not in its DNA.
Thanks to a solid JV program, relatively little turnover with the coaching staff and the presence of character building and mentor programs to help underclassmen mature, the Rams have plenty of pieces in place for another successful season despite losing 25 seniors to graduation.
“I think we have a great system in place; we’ve never won less than nine games here so instead of making overhaul changes, we’ve just been tweaking as we go,” Rams coach Scott Riley said. “On the field, we have our scheme for what we’re going to do on offense and defense – it’s more about player development and adding to the program.”
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Who are some players to watch?
Senior quarterback Caiden Norman made a seamless return to his natural position at quarterback last season after a stint at wide receiver the season before. As the one responsible for throwing the ball and not catching it, Norman set school passing records with 3,368 passing yards and added over 1,000 more yards on the ground.
One of Norman’s favorite targets, Jacob Scott, is back and figures to play a central role in what Cleveland wants to do offensively. Scott totaled 816 yards receiving a year ago and a 1,000-plus receiving yard campaign this time around is not out of the question.
Running back Joseph James had 504 yards on the ground last year in a season plagued by injuries. James looks healthy to start out his senior season which is a great sign for the Rams, as the running back averaged over six yards a carry last year when healthy. Sophomore Tyson Dew, who had a dazzling JV season last year, also figures to get plenty of touches this year.
A trio of seniors, Noah Barnes, T.J. Naumann and Tevin Sanders, will be called upon to spearhead the Cleveland defense. Barnes and Naumann both had dominating seasons on the defensive line last year and Sanders, after returning from injury for the playoffs, made a big difference down the stretch at outside linebacker.
What players will they miss the most?
You don’t have to look much further than last season’s all-conference award winners when deciding who will be missed the most. Zach Jacobs (OL) won Lineman of the Year in the Two Rivers Conference; Patrick Jesequel (WR) was named the Offensive Player of the Year and kicker Lawson Lamm was recognized as the Special Teams Player of the Year award.
Can the Rams make it 4-for-4 in the Two Rivers?
In the last year of the current configuration of the Two Rivers 3A Conference before realignment, Cleveland will look to grab at least a share of the title for the fourth consecutive year. Cleveland comes off of an unbeaten conference record last year as the Rams won their second outright title in the conference to go along with their shared title in 2014.
Over all three years of the current Two Rivers, Cleveland has gone 14-1 against league competition, winning 12 of those games by double digits with an overall margin of victory in those wins standing at a staggering 25.8 points.
Riley anticipates the sledding to be a little tougher this time around as he feels the conference may be deeper and more evenly balanced then any other time in the past four years.
“It helps us when we get to playoff time because you don’t have those lulls (in the schedule) anymore where your kids can take a week off,” said Riley. “Any team in the conference this year can beat any other team in the conference so we’re going to have to come out and play every day the way the conference has evened out.”
More on the Rams
Last year: 11-3* (5-0 Two Rivers 3A), 3AA third round
Five-year average: 10-3 (5-1)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 10
Coaches: Scott Riley (head coach), Joseph Capps (Off. Coordinator/QBs/RBs), Jordan Boser (DL), John Jacobs (WRs), John Owen (JV OL), Wayne Stewart (DBs), Reagan Wells (OL), Brad Wilkie (OL).
Contributors: Caiden Norman (Sr., QB/P), Jacob Scott (Sr., WR), Cameron Witmer (Jr., C), Landon Clifton (Sr., G), Joseph James (Sr., RB), Tyson Dew (So., RB), T.J. Naumann (Sr., DE), Noah Barnes (Sr. DE/DT), Tevin Sanders (Sr., OLB).
The main number: 8 — After starting out 2-3 last season, the Rams reeled off eight straight wins before falling to Southern in the third round of the 3AA playoffs. Once again, Cleveland will have one of the area’s most challenging nonconference schedules.
“We have a real tough nonconference schedule,” Riley said, referring to early games at Garner and Terry Sanford as well as home games against county 4A rivals Clayton and West Johnston. “We’ve got a good infusion of young talent; we’re going to see a lot of sophomores play. That early nonconference is designed to get them battle-tested.”
*Was 10-4 but received a retroactive forfeit win from Southern Durham, which won 28-21 in the third round of the playoffs.
Aug. 19 vs. Clayton, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Garner, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 at Apex Friendship, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 vs. West Johnston, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 16 at Terry Sanford, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23 vs. South Granville, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 30 BYE
Oct. 7* vs. Triton, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14* at South Johnston, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. Smithfield-Selma, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28* at Western Harnett, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4* vs. Corinth Holders, 7:30 p.m.
Note: *conference game