CLEVELAND BLUE RAIDERS
Coach: E.K. Slaughter (9-13 here; 18-16 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 6/7/2
Remember these names: Quarterback Chad Voytik (Sr., 6-0, 200) is a University of Pittsburgh commitment who has thrown for 3,650 yards in his Raiders career, while defensive lineman Henry McClendon (Sr., 6-2, 250) is another Division I talent. Linebacker Jesse Jones (Sr., 5-10, 200) is another key component for the Raiders, while receiver D.J. Jones (So., 5-11, 160) is expected to be a key newcomer in 2011, scoring three touchdowns in one scrimmage.
Will be a memorable year if: The Raiders make it past the first round of the state playoffs. It seems like low expectations for a program that has missed the playoffs only once in 25 years, but since they defeated Greeneville 28-14 in the second round of the 1996 Class 4A playoffs for their 54th consecutive victory, Cleveland is 5-14 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002.
Aug. 19 at Alcoa
Aug. 26 at Knoxville Catholic
Sept. 2 Ooltewah*
Sept. 9 Central
Sept. 16 at Walker Valley*
Sept. 23 at Red Bank
Oct. 7 at McMinn County*
Oct. 14 Soddy-Daisy*
Oct. 21 Bradley Central*
Oct. 28 at Rhea County*
* District 5-AAA game
The Cleveland football team will have no problem figuring out who will throw passes in 2011. The Blue Raiders' biggest issue will be finding a few guys capable of consistently catching them.
The quarterback position has been in good hands the past couple of seasons with senior and University of Pittsburgh commitment Chad Voytik, but the Raiders struggled last season to find multiple receivers to help then-senior B.J. Davis, who had 53 catches for 885 yards and nine touchdowns.
Davis and fellow 2011 graduate Jeremy Simpson (34 catches) accounted for three-fourths of Cleveland's total completions.
Coach E.K. Slaughter believes the Raiders will be all right in that area. While they might not have deep-ball threats like Terrell Parks and Marcus Davis two seasons ago or the consistency of B.J. Davis and the physical nature Simpson provided last year, he thinks this season's corps of receivers is more than capable of making plays.
"It's kind of like a car without the gas," Slaughter said. "You can't have one without the other. I like to think that we have a couple of dynamic receivers in this group, as well as a couple that are disciplined guys that give us what we need to compete."
With four starters returning on the offensive line, two running backs with experience and an All-American quarterback, the attention on offense focuses on the wideouts.
"I think we have a good corps of young, talented receivers," Voytik said recently. "They provide sure hands and they're all good route runners. It's easier playing with them, but I have time to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and we're all able to make each other better."
With eight catches last season, senior Brandon Strickland is the leading returner and has good hands, as do fellow seniors Shun Qualls and Reed Allison. Sophomores D.J. Jones and Parker Smith are going to be counted on to contribute heavily in their first season, with Jones especially being looked at to replace Davis.
"It's very important for us to be consistent this year, because not only will Chad look good, but it'll give us an opportunity to shine," Strickland said. "We look at it as a challenge to us. Chad gets a lot of attention, but it's going to be up to us to help him out."
Said Jones: "I feel we're going to have a good year this year. We know we're going to be looked at to produce, and it's a lot of pressure, but I think we're ready for the challenge."
Great teams usually are driven more by their failures than their successes. The best years of Blue Raiders football were 1993-96, when the program won 54 games, three state championships and attained a national ranking, but it was the ’92 team — the first of five consecutive undefeated regular seasons for Cleveland — whose 28-14 loss to Riverdale in the second round of the state playoffs led to a change in the program and the focus of the team.
Cory Prigmore, who quarterbacked the Raiders to the 1993 TSSAA championship, said the mood was somber after that game.
“Everybody was just upset because it was a game we felt we could have won,” he said. “We had guys that had never lost a game as a class, and so when we got beat by Riverdale, we took that loss with us and built momentum going into the next season.”