CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Aiden McCleary was quarterbacking the Bradley Central defense as a safety just a few weeks ago. Then a season-ending injury to starter Javin Burke on the other side of the ball forced the junior to convert to actually playing quarterback.
After a few weeks to get fully acclimated, he appears to have settled in behind center.
McCleary threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns, spearheading the Bears' attack Friday night in a 45-7 win over Ooltewah at Bear Stadium.
Bradley (4-1, 2-0 Region 2-6A) dominated on both sides of the ball, sacking Ooltewah's Fisher Perry five times while holding the Owls (2-3, 1-1) to just 4 rushing yards and 126 yards of total offense.
The Bears rushed for 207 yards, with 76 of those provided by Riley Harmon — who had a touchdown run — and 68 from Javon Burke, who added 33 yards on three catches, two of which went for touchdowns. Kannon Hall had 198 receiving yards and a touchdown on nine catches.
Bradley's defense had five sacks, three of them credited to junior Josh Helsdon.
But it started with McCleary, who at times looked shaky in his first start against Walker Valley. That wasn't the case Friday.
"The coaches have helped me out a lot in practice," he said. "I feel like I know my stuff now, know the right reads, so I'm a lot more confident out there and I'm thankful for that."
The Owls stayed with the Bears early, with the strong-armed Perry — who passed for 107 yards in the game — taking some shots down the field. A first shot went just a little long, but the next one found Dawson Jones in stride for a 69-yard score and the game was tied at 7.
It was Bradley from then on. First it was Carter Clayton plunging in from a yard out. Then it was McCleary through the air, finding Burke from 16 and 7 yards out and Hall from 25. Harmon's touchdown run covered 4 yards.
The Bears have an open date before a battle with rival Cleveland (3-2, 1-1), which defeated Maryville Heritage 34-28 in overtime Friday night. It will be a week for Bradley to heal up, with Bears coach Damon Floyd mentioning his team was "banged up" after the win against the Owls.
But if there are any questions about health, there are answers at quarterback.
"He's been a pretty calm kid," Floyd said of McCleary. "I mean, nothing really rattles him, so now that he's got practice under his belt, he keeps getting better and better, and he's doing what (offensive coordinator Matt) Moody is telling him to do.
"He's executing very well, he's a leader and the kids are rallying around him."