A new era of football has begun in Cleveland.
Friday night at Mickey Sellers Stadium, a town united in purple as the Cleveland Central High School Wolves officially began their first season of football.
Last year at this time, this team of one was two — the Cleveland High School Wildcats and the East Side Trojans draped in their colors of black and gold.
There’s been months of speculation on how the community will embrace the new colors, the new school, and the new team.
If Friday night is any indication of how the community feels about this new era of football, it bolds well for Cleveland Central as the stadium was packed with many fans wearing shirts that said, “United in Purple.”
An estimated 3,500 anxious football fans came to the field on a hot and humid night to watch the Wolves take on the Lafayette High School Commodores, which won the 4A State Championship last year and is 5A this year.
The 5A Wolves had a tough challenge in front of them with a lot of people hoping and wanting to see victory, as they were jammed together in the bleachers like sardines.
The Wolves didn’t disappoint as they battled their way to a 21-13 win to start their program at a perfect 1-0.
Wolves head football coach Ricky Smither was full of emotion after the game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of coaches, a group of players and a community to come together like they did tonight,” Smither said. “I can’t even put thoughts or words into the situation. It’s just amazing.”
Before the start of the game, the cheerleaders held up a poster that said, ”one town, one school, one family, Cleveland Central Pride,” with a wolf logo under pride.
When it came time to run to the sidelines for the opening kickoff, the Wolves came charging out of the tunnel and busting through the sign ready for battle.
Senior Traveyon Craig, one of Cleveland Central’s team captains for the game with seniors Montavious Thomas and Demarrion Jackson, wasn’t surprised when talking about the jam-packed stadium.
“We expected a packed house,” Craig, who played at East Side last year, said. “We were ready for it. We were prepared for it.
Junior center Jacob Dodd said he was amazed at the crowd.
“It was pretty impressive,” Dodd, who played at Cleveland High last year, said. “I’ve never seen that many people in this place at one time.”
Junior running back Larry Tyler, who played at East Side High School last season, said he was in awe of the huge crowd that came to watch his team play.
“It was mind blowing,” Tyler said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It was exciting.”
Tyler said the team was focused on taking care of business.
“We came in focused, confident and ready to win,” Tyler said.
With Lafayette being defending 4A State Champions and Cleveland Central playing in its first official game, the task of winning was very difficult with many people doubting Wolves could win.
Craig said all the players were determined to succeed.
“They doubted us because they didn’t think we couldn’t do it,” Craig said. “We were the underdogs. We came out and had something to prove. STP.”
Dodd said the team had their share of times where they had to buckle down and persevere.
“We were ready to see what was going to happen, how we were going to compete with other teams and what happened if we got down and what happened if we got up,” Dodd said. “Obviously, we had times when we got down and got back up. We battled through a lot of adversity.”
Junior defensive back Rodarrius Douglas was elated after the game talking about the win.
“We came out and played hard through all the doubters,” Douglas, who played at Cleveland High last year, said. “We came out and played as a team. The defense played good and the offense played good. We all stuck together and fought to win.”
Douglas said the work the team has put into preparing for the season in addition to the community support made the game a must win.
“We’ve been working all year, all summer,” Douglas said. “We couldn’t let the crowd down.”
Even though he was happy to win the first game, Smither said the pressure to succeed isn’t going away.
“Our goal is to get to the playoffs,” Smither said. “We’ve got a long row to hoe. There are a lot of teams out in front of us that are really good. It puts more pressure on us. We’ve got to come back next week and it’s a reality now. It puts a little more pressure on us to be at the top of our game as coaches.”
The Wolves will be back in action on Friday when they host the Grenada High School Chargers at 7 p.m.