GREENBELT – For a five-foot-seven, 155-pound wide receiver, Delmetrius Cloyd understands that defenders underestimate him for his size. However, once the ball is in his hands, the senior kills the opposition the hard way with his speed.
On a third-and-short situation in a scrimmage against Landon School on Aug. 18, Cloyd caught a quick screen pass and began to cut upfield. A defensive lineman dove to tackle the Eleanor Roosevelt High School star on his left-hand side, but Cloyd was faster, side-stepping away and making the Landon defender miss as he ran up the field for an eight-yard gain.
“People overlook me and think that just because I am small, I am fragile,” Cloyd said. “But I am for real physical and cutthroat (as a runner).”
Cloyd is one of the several seniors returning this year for the Raiders. Instead of a rebuild, Roosevelt will lean on experienced youth and new players to strengthen their squad to compete in the county’s tough 4A division.
After making three straight regional final appearances with a veteran-filled roster, expectations are arguably lowered for Roosevelt for this year.
Losing key players on offense like Jaden Faulkner, Raymond Boone, and Elisha McDonald meant that a possible rebuild would be in the cards for the Greenbelt-based school. However, with a squad of players eager to finally get consistent playing time, Eleanor Roosevelt Head Coach Thomas Green emphasized that his 11th season will field a competitive side.
“By the end of the year, nobody is a rookie anymore,” Green said. “And we approach (this season) like we are going to win a championship every year. You never know what year you are going to break in, so we are (motivating) them up like we are going to win every year.”
The crucial first addition was senior transfer Jalen Walters from Potomac High School, who won the starting quarterback job. According to Green, the six-foot-four, 180-pound quarterback earned the role with his ability to learn the offense quickly and athleticism to escape would-be tacklers by being mobile in the pocket. Junior Amanni Stewart will be the back-up.
“The transition was really smooth,” Walters said. “But I had to set myself ahead of everyone else and try to be the best that I can be to show the coaches that I was meant to be the starter.”
Last season, Roosevelt’s offense averaged 29.8 points a game. Walters’ relationship with his wide receiver core of Cloyd and senior Zi’yah Jones will be key to continue Roosevelt’s scoring success. Running back Malik Debrah will provide split work as a runner and receiver to add an extra weapon on the Raiders’ new passing game, a small change from Roosevelt’s run-heavy offensives of the past, Green said.
“This year, we have a better quarterback and receivers, but our offensive line is really young, so we are going to have to be patient with them,” Debrah said. “This is a building relationship, and we are getting better every day. We do not need to rush into anything but take it one game at a time.”
The amount of new faces presents challenges on both the offensive and defensive line. There is only one returning lineman, senior James Ballanger. The four-year varsity starter has lost weight, from 350 to 285 pounds in six months, to prepare for more responsibilities in his two-way role while taking up a leadership role to groom younger talent like freshman center Abdul Ouattara.
With Ballanger molding both lines, the Raider secondary will look to build off a strong 2017 season with the return of safeties Dave Hines and Solomon Douglas. Douglas, a senior, will be looking to top his amazing junior year, where he finished the 2017-2018 campaign with a team-high five interceptions. Hines will use his agility to add pressure on quarterbacks during blitz packages.
“We are so young and (my teammates) are eager to learn, they have adapted to it all and gotten better at defense,” Ballenger said. “This year, our defensive line is smarter, but we are going to have to be more physical… We got to do what we got to do to win.”
The Raiders have made it to the regional finals for three consecutive years only to lose to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School each time, including a chippy affair that ended early last season. The losses have fizzled the rivalry between the two schools for now and this year’s crop of Raiders is staying away from making controversial statements about any team.
“We are more to ourselves this year as we are looking to be silent and deadly,” Cloyd said. “We are going to get the job done.”
While new players are still trying out for the varsity squad, team cohesion is being established before the season opener against Bladensburg High School on Aug. 31.
“I’ll be honest, people talk about the rebuild and stuff like that but the goal is to get one of the four playoff spots, and once that happens, we will reevaluate our goals,” Green said. “You cannot win state if you do not win in the playoffs and right now, that is our goal.”