Few high school football programs have matched Cleveland’s success. The Rams have compiled a winning percentage of .764 through their first four seasons, averaging 10.5 wins a season.
The biggest reasons: a veteran coaching staff helped start the program in 2010 (a junior varsity only season where the Rams went 10-0), a super productive offensive attack (averaging 41.3 points a game all time) and a constant known entity taking the snaps from center.
That third factor will be tested this season. For the first time, the Rams do not return a starting quarterback. Tre Joyner, Cleveland’s first quarterback, entered varsity competition with a 10-0 mark as a junior varsity starter and 2014 graduate Aaron Farmer became a starter midway of his sophomore season.
Caiden Norman gets the call for the Rams this season, and he’s a returning starter of sorts. After spending a year on varsity at receiver, the junior returns to the position he held on the Rams’ junior varsity squad as a freshman: quarterback.
“As a staff, going back to our days at Harnett Central, we’ve always subscribed to the theory that we’re going to put our most athletic kid at quarterback,” second-year Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “Caiden fits that profile for us. He played wide receiver for us last year out of necessity. We expect him to transition back to quarterback smoothly.”
Norman will operate with an offense that returns eight total starters, including 1,000-yard rusher Corey Brown, shifty receiver Patrick Jesequel and four linemen. (A fifth OL starter is shifting to the defensive line this season.)
There is one area the Rams want to see improve: turnovers.
“We had too many of them,” Riley said. “We hurt our defense with the timing and location of some of our turnovers last year.”
A young defense will suit up for the Rams, who shared the Two Rivers 3A Conference title last year and won it outright in 2013. Only four starters (including the one shifting over from offense) return, but an influx of speed should bring an added dimension.
“We’ve developed a lot more speed on defense than we’ve had in past seasons,” Riley said. “I feel like that will help us show something we haven’t had much of on that side of the ball in the past.”
The Rams have fared well in the gauntlet of a nonconference schedule they’ve faced in recent seasons. They’ll get another taste to start 2015 meeting rivals Clayton, Garner and West Johnston in successive weeks.
Expected team strength: Offensive production. The Rams return eight starters on offense.
Key Contributors: OL Zach Jacobs, OL Reagan Wells, OL James Martinez, OL Jonathan Anderson, WR Patrick Jesequel, WR Jacob Scott, RB Corey Brown, QB Caiden Norman, DL Landon Clifton, LB Quinton Ross, LB Chris Cody, DB Cameron Loseke
Player they’ll miss the most: Sterling Johnson, DL – The Clemson recruit didn’t have huge numbers last season, but any look at the line play in a Rams’ game film and you’ll see why. He drew constant double and triple teams, keeping at least one fellow defender unblocked.
The main number: 48.62 – the average point total the Rams put up in 2014.
The quote: “You miss all of your kids that contributed who graduate. You just have to prepare kids to take their place when they graduate, from the ones who are now in Death Valley or at Lenoir-Rhyne or just somewhere in college.”
Game to Watch: Aug. 21 at Clayton – It’ll be an electric environment for the Comets with the stadium naming ceremony preceding the season opener. How do the Rams handle things with a new QB and a young defense?
Past five years
2014: 10-3 (4-1), second round 3AA
2013: 9-4 (5-0), second round 3AA
2012: 12-2 (4-1, third round 3AA
2011: 10-4 (4-1), East final 3A
2011: Junior varsity only