Quarterback Jackson Byrd considers the sideline at Cleveland High School to be a comforting and familiar place.
Years before Byrd was a student at Cleveland, he roamed the sideline at the football games as a young child. The son of a principal, he spent many Friday nights watching some of Cleveland’s best players and getting to know the coaching staff, including head coach Scott Riley.
Byrd participated in Cleveland’s youth football camps, played middle school football, and enjoyed watching games with his friends.
Byrd expressed that going through the program and being out there is like a full-circle moment for him.
Reworded: This is not just a sentimental moment coming full circle. Byrd, a junior, is already making a mark on the highly successful Cleveland football program. The team has never had a losing season and has made it to the state playoffs every year since its varsity team was established.
Byrd and Stokes were instrumental in leading Cleveland to a dominant victory over New Bern, achieving a school record for third round wins in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state playoffs. Byrd also reached a career milestone by surpassing 100 touchdowns, with six of those being scored in the third round game.
The quarterback role has consistently been a strong point for Cleveland, and Byrd had the chance to gain knowledge from multiple players in that position.
Byrd says quarterbacks Darius Ocean and Skyler Locklear taught him a lot when they were at Cleveland. He also remembers watching Caiden Norman from the sidelines as a younger child.
“I began my training with (Ocean and Locklear) at a young age. They introduced me to various trainers and drills which greatly benefited my skills. As a result, when I reached this level, it translated effectively onto the field,” stated Byrd.
“It has moved onto the playing field. This year, Byrd has contributed to Cleveland’s perfect 13-0 record, the most wins the program has ever achieved. Throughout 13 games, he has successfully thrown 229 out of 329 passes for 3,359 yards and 36 touchdowns. Additionally, he has gained 403 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 59 carries.”
Byrd has been a starting player for two years and his statistics are remarkable. In 32 games, he has passed for 6,292 yards and 75 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions out of 625 attempts. He has also rushed for 26 touchdowns and gained 1,076 yards on 146 carries.
“I believe I have made good progress,” stated Byrd. “I aimed to enhance my throwing technique, as I used to heavily rely on my legs. I realized the need to improve my accuracy, velocity, and touch when throwing. During the off-season, I worked diligently with my team to address these areas. I am pleased with the results, as it has translated well onto the field.”
Byrd has put in effort to become an essential member of Cleveland’s football team. He is now witnessing the full-circle effect of his hard work.
“I often get stopped by young children while I’m out in public. They call out, ‘Hey, Jackson, what’s up?’ We engage in small talk, with them asking me how I’m doing and congratulating me on my successful season so far,” Byrd shared. “It’s surreal to experience this because I remember being a 7-year-old and looking up to the Cleveland football players, just hoping for a high five or any kind of interaction. Now, to be in their shoes, it’s mind-boggling.”
“I used to be a young child, but now I am in someone else’s position. I am receiving a lot of love and I am grateful for all of it,” he stated.
Byrd’s already led Cleveland to places it has not been before, including winning 13 games in a season. He hopes they aren’t done yet. The Rams have gone to regional championships games in the past, and even finished as a state runner-up, but Byrd hopes to end this season as a state champion.
As previously mentioned, it would feel like coming full circle. It’s truly surreal. And being reunited with the same group of guys I’ve known since we were young is incredible, seeing how we’ve evolved as teammates, football players, and individuals off the field,” Byrd stated. “I aim to be the one who brings everyone together and demonstrates to the community that this is our year. We can achieve our goals.”
Cleveland and Hoggard will face off in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state playoffs on Friday at 7:30 p.m. This game is a repeat of their season-opening match, which Cleveland won 28-20.
Byrd had a successful performance in the victory over Hoggard, completing 15 out of 23 passes for 257 yards and scoring a touchdown. However, he was unable to finish the game due to an injury.