Transfers Nashon Hester from Douglas County High and Michael Fulton from Lithia Springs, both seniors, are the new additions to the team at inside and outside linebackers.
“They should really provide the defense with leadership,” Cleveland said.
Preparing for the upcoming season, the Jaguars finished their first full region season with a 2-8 record, winning their first two games of the year. Cleveland said this year the team will be much better despite their continued overall youthfulness.
“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores. They’ve done a good job and are much improved. We still don’t have a full senior class but we’re a lot better prepared,” he said.
With 16 seniors and 40 juniors this season, New Manchester returns 10 starters on offense and eight starters on defense. Of all the starters, Cleveland named five players as his key returners – quarterback Tabashi Thomas, running backs Malik Thomas and Omari Jared, guard Samyedre Neal and linebacker Tre Wilson.
Tabashi Thomas, only a sophomore, started at quarterback for the last two games of the 2012 season as a freshman. Cleveland said he is “extremely talented” and the best quarterback on their roster of the five they have.
Going into their second official season, Cleveland said the team has been doing seven-on-seven drills four days a week against themselves, all summer. The offensive line also went to a five-day camp in Cochran in mid-June.
After getting two wins in their inaugural region season, Cleveland said they feel confident and have some ambitious goals this year.
“[Our goal is to] try to get over the hump and have a winning season. We feel that goal is attainable. Having a winning season puts you in position for a possible playoff spot…Last year we were in the bottom tier. Hopefully, we’re in the middle tier now,” said Cleveland.
One element of the Jaguars’ game that Cleveland said has improved and will truly make a difference this year is their physical size and strength.
“We had trouble matching up with teams last year. We’re still not where we need to be to compete for a title, but we’ve made a lot of strides…If you work hard good things will come and they’ve worked hard and done everything we’ve asked them to,” Cleveland said.