Under the direction of new head coach Ron Crawford, a young Cleveland football team is looking back on their first full week of practice and a group of young men are making the preparations to gear up in Raider blue for the 2012 season.
“We have some good skill players with experience and some of our linemen have shown a lot of ‘want to.’ But, as a team we are just very youthful. There isn’t much experience here,” explained Crawford.
“Having a younger group makes it easy for us as a coaching staff, coming in and installing a new program. But, we made a commitment to these seniors that we aren’t looking at building next year’s team. We are going to try and make this group as good as it can be.”
The team will feature just nine seniors and only eight have varsity football experience. Yet, a number of younger players were out on the practice field working hard to establish themselves as important pieces to this reworked Cleveland puzzle.
“Our seniors have an opportunity to make a statement about how they are going to be remembered. Our seniors have invested a lot of time and energy in this program and they deserve an opportunity for success,” Crawford stated about his inherited veterans.
Last season, the team went a disappointing 5-5, 3-3 in District 5-AAA and missed a playoff berth for the first time the past six seasons.
After the season ended, then Raider coach E.K. Slaughter was let go by the school, eventually taking the head coaching position at Red Bank High School.
In addition, Cleveland lost star quarterback Chad Voytik who graduated and is preparing for his first collegian season with the University of Pittsburgh.
Now, Crawford sits in the driver’s seat and the new coach feels he still has a few wrinkles to iron out to get the team where it needs to be.
“I don’t feel we are physically where we need to be right now. We didn’t have an off-season program to speak of. We are a little ‘behind the 8 ball’ as far as that’s concerned. Can we get where we want to be? I think we are going to make this team the best team it can possibly be. What does that translate into? That’s up to these young men,” he expressed.
“This is a group that has a good understanding of mental toughness. We have guys out there already who are showing they know how to fight through when conditions aren’t perfect and can really knuckle down and focus. But, we have another group that we have to bring along. They aren’t quite there yet. That’s probably a symptom of the reasons things haven’t gone the way they have wanted them to the last several years.”
It all starts with the team leadership according to Crawford. He is looking to himself and his coaching staff to set a standard for what the team now expects of the kids.
Currently, the team’s top priority is helping the players understand what the new regime is asking of them and how to accomplish that, and that is headed up by the coaching staff and team leaders setting an active example.
“Today (Friday) we were back out in the heat after being indoors. It zapped us pretty good. We had some guys really step up and show us that they wanted to compete, fighting through being tired. Some guys wanted a break, wanted out. So, we are just going to continue to build and develop that part of our team that is mentally tough,” he said in conclusion.
The Raiders kick off their season on Aug. 18 in Alcoa against perennial powerhouse Maryville.