Despite having just 28 players on its roster last season, Cleveland
South made the playoffs for the first time in school history.
year’s team will once again be led by talented senior Devontae Payne, who is ranked
as the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 11 senior prospect in the state by
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Devontae Payne (6-6, 238, Sr.), OT/DL John Steele (6-4, 278, Sr.), DE/OLB Matthew Robinson (6-1, 200, Sr.), WR/SS Stephan Sanders (5-11, 175, Sr.), RB/WR/CB Brandon Walston (5-10, 165, Jr.), OL/DT Russell Brown (6-4, 285, So.), OL/DT Michael Burton (6-1, 285, So.).
2007 Record: 8-3, Regional quarterfinalist
Despite having just 28 players on its roster last season, Cleveland South made the playoffs for the first time in school history.
This year’s team will once again be led by the talented Payne, who is ranked as the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 11 senior prospect in the state by Ohio High. He threw for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns last year (29 career TDs, six INTs) and received an early scholarship offer from Bowling Green. Payne was a second-team all-district selection last year and is expected to rack up the accolades in his final prep season.
“Devontae is a phenomenal quarterback and he’s still growing,” South head coach Jarvis Gibson said. “He’s got all the physical tools and he calls 80 percent of the plays at the line. Based on the formation, I give them a check-with-me, and he pretty much calls the play at the line. He’s very smart and can read defenses. He’s pretty much a man among boys out there most of the time.
“And he actually has more offers than Bowling Green, but we’ve decided not to publicize any of that. We’re keeping the recruiting aspect between us and the universities. The Bowling Green offer was made public because it was his first, but since then we’ve decided to keep all of that in-house.”
Steele is an excellent two-way lineman and was second-team all-district and first-team all-league on offense last year. Like the quarterback he protects, Steele is being recruited by Division I schools. On defense, Steele is a disruptive force at DE who can slide down to DT. He is ranked as one of the top 150 senior prospects in the state by Ohio High and is a good student with a 3.1 GPA.
“Last year was John’s first year of playing football, so he is kind of a late arrival,” Gibson said. “When the college coaches come to see Devontae, they say, ‘Who is that big kid over there?’ John is the anchor of our offensive line at left tackle. Defensively he plays outside for us on the line and he runs a 5.1 (40). Most college coaches would probably keep bulking him up and play him at defensive tackle.”
Robinson is an athletic playmaker and is ranked in the top 150 in the state by Ohio High individually. Robinson was named first-team All-Northwest District and second-team All-Ohio as a junior.
“He is also being recruited, but everyone pegged him as a tweener,” Gibson said. “They look at him as a strong safety/outside linebacker. He plays with a lot of quickness and just flat out knows how to find the ball. He’s not as fundamentally sound as you would want at first, but he finds a way to get to the ball quickly. We keep coaching him up and he just says, ‘Coach, I just need to get to the ball.’ He will be a four-year starter for us.”
Sanders is a talented two-way playmaker that was timed at 4.62 in the 40 at Kentucky’s football camp. “That got word out about him and now he’s been recruited as well,” Gibson said.
Walston is a transfer from Cleveland Glenville (yes, it goes both ways every now and then) and Gibson is very excited about what he might be able to bring to the team.
“Walston is electric, he’s phenomenal,” Gibson said. “We got him from Glenville. I didn’t even know anything about the kid except that he played on muni league field near us. He showed up for our workout one day and I said, ‘Who is this kid?’ Devontae was working out for college coaches and Brandon started running routes. Brandon has been timed at 4.5 in the 40 and he can be special. He’s very elusive.”
Brown and Burton round out the players to watch and each of them are young, physical forces on the offensive and defensive lines. Brown played a little bit as a freshman and Gibson “expects big things” from him this season.
In terms of team expectations, Gibson just wants to keep building his program and make a return trip to the postseason.
“That always the goal: to improve on what you did from last year,” Gibson said. “We trying to get kids to do what they’re supposed to do and work hard. We tried to preach to them that the off-season was going to huge for us because last year people said we snuck up on them. Everyone knows about us know. With these college recruits, people think we are the next Glenville. But I try to tell people that we only had 28 players last year and 12 of them were seniors.”
At the time of publication, Gibson was not sure if he would have a bigger roster of players this season.
“We don’t know,” he said. “We’re fighting right now and trying to get the most out of our kids academically. We don’t use the state rule of a 1.6 GPA at minimum, we use our city rule which is a 2.0.”
As for Gibson’s background, he is a graduate of South and played college football at Case Western. His first year at the helm in 2005, the Flyers went 7-3. He then led them to back-to-back 8-win seasons.
Among the 12 seniors that graduated off last year’s team, South must replace first-team all-district/second-team All-Ohio RB Brian Jackson, as well as first-team All-Ohio WR Patrick Bennett.
8/29 @ WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS
9/5 @ VALLEY FORGE (PARMA HEIGHTS)
9/12 GLENVILLE ACADEMIC CAMPUS (CLEVELAND)
9/26 LINCOLN WEST (CLEVELAND)
10/4 @ EAST (CLEVELAND)
10/25 @ JOHN F KENNEDY (CLEVELAND)