CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Last year was one of those football seasons that members of the Cleveland Blue Raiders would just as soon forget.
They finished with a 5-5 record, which is not very good for a team with much higher standards. Perhaps the biggest kicker to last year's misery was losing their final game to Rhea County and getting left out of the playoffs.
Every coach and player who has anything to do with Cleveland football is vowing to not let that happen again.
Ron Crawford is starting his second season as the Blue Raider head coach.
He too has high expectations as he has a strong senior class numbering 18 and he has the majority of starters back, including nine on offense.
Austin Herink was the starting quarterback a year ago who looked great at times. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has the size to be a force. He's also a smart kid with a 3.9 grade point average, so he's certainly more of an asset than a liability when the Blue Raiders have the ball.
He's been to more than a dozen camps this summer and he's a better than average bet to be playing on the college level next fall.
"Our goal is to be better than last year, get back to the playoffs and win some important football games," the only child of Jeff and Donita Herink shared one day last week before practice began.
"We've had a great summer so far, but we have to get back to that level of play that Cleveland is known for. We have most of our starters back on offense and I feel more confident than ever before. I know that I can play at this level and I feel like a veteran now after what I went through last year.
"All of my friends are on the football team and we've been playing together for a while. We've worked hard to get to this point and we really care about each other," he continued.
This young man started his football career as an energetic six-year-old and was a running back until the sixth grade.
"You know that every kid wants to be a quarterback. I've really taken my role as the quarterback serious as my work ethic is one of my biggest assets. I don't put the football down all year long and I'm a student of the game," Herink added.
He has a long list of colleges interested in his services, including Cincinnati, Furman, Samford, VMI and Youngstown State. History is his favorite subject and he wants to one day go into business for himself selling insurance, but he's hoping that his career as a gridiron star will keep going for several more years.
"I know that football doesn't last forever, so I have to have a backup plan," he concluded.
Coach Crawford is just happy that he has another season with the strapping guy who just celebrated his 18th birthday this past Friday.
"From an experience standpoint, we ask him to do a lot, but he understands our offense and he allows us to do some good things on that side of the ball," Crawford said while supervising a weight room workout.
"Austin is a good teammate and the others have a lot of confidence in him. His goal is to be number one and he's often harder on himself than we are. He's competitive, coachable and dependable and that's the kind of guy you want at quarterback.
"He can throw the football, but he also has the ability to keep a play alive when the call doesn't materialize. We'll run him some as he's big enough to protect himself," the coach continued.
"He understands our offense and he knows how to protect the ball. He has all the ingredients of a great leader and we expect him to improve from last year. I hope that he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
"We don't want to leave any doubts this year. Our mental toughness has to get better, but I feel like we have a chance to win every game on our schedule. Of course, we can't afford to beat ourselves. But we're excited about the upcoming season as we're looking for great things from these young men," Crawford concluded.
The Blue Raiders looked good in their 20-minute jamboree matchup with Boyd-Buchanan on Friday night as the Blue Raiders prevailed, 14-0.
Herink's first pass fell incomplete, but he then completed his next four, including a touchdown play of 79 yards to fellow senior D.J. Jones.
Cleveland will be the first team to start the season as the Blue Raiders host McCallie at Benny Monroe Stadium on Thursday night with the opening kickoff set for 7:30.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)