CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WRCB) -- It didn't take Austin Herink long to realize there was something different about new Cleveland coach Ron Crawford.
"His voice is definitely something we talk about," Herink said.
Running back C.J. Bryant noticed it, too, during Crawford's first meeting with the team.
"I just thought he had been yelling a lot the day before," Bryant recalled of his first impression. "I asked him if that's how he really talks. He said, 'Ya. You know it, man.'"
Crawford is visibly intense and competitive during practice. He has a non-stop motor and was described as a "live wire" by Herink.
But it's his raspy resonance that makes him ripe for parody.
"He's actually our lunch room monitor, so he'll get on the loud speaker and say 'Lunch is over,'" Herink said in a course voice, which he claims is the team's best Crawford imitation.
Crawford has heard Herink's impression. He wasn't impressed.
"I totally disagree," the first-year coach said when told of Herink's boast. "I've had kids throughout my career much better than him (at imitating me). I think it's weak. He's got a lot of growing up to do before he can ever come up with something close to this voice."
All joking aside, the Blue Raider community has embraced Crawford with open arms since he was hired away from Brentwood High to replace E.K. Slaughter.
The transition has been anything but easy for the veteran coach, who spent more than two decades in Middle Tennessee.
"Everything little thing is different. Where you eat. Where you pay bills. Everything," Crawford said. "It's not bad, it's just different. But at least football is still the same."
Crawford has enjoyed plenty of success in his career, going 94-32 with one state championship in his ten years leading Brentwood.
But success may be hard to come by early in his debut at Cleveland.
"I should have looked at the schedule before I took the job," joked Crawford, whose team will open the season against Maryville, Knoxville Catholic and Ooltewah. "We're going to be ready to play on Saturday, but I don't know if we'll be ready to play Maryville. They're staff has about 16 years of experience on us, but it will be a great opportunity for the kids to go out and see where we stand."
Cleveland was one of the state's most dominant programs in the 90's, but hasn't won a playoff game since 2002. Slaughter managed just a 14-18 record the past three years, missing the postseason in 2011.
While the road ahead may appear difficult, Crawford's positive attitude and non-stop energy already has the Blue Raiders believing in themselves.
"I think we can go very far," Bryant said. "People think that because last year we didn't go to the playoffs that we won't make it this year, but I think we have a good chance of making it far in the playoffs."
Crawford doesn't have a win total in mind for what will make a successful first season. Instead, he's laid out a list of goals that he believes to be of the utmost importance.
"We want to do everything we can to enhance our opportunity for success, so that means doing things the right way," he said. "We want to play like there's no scoreboard and play hard the entire ballgame.
"We want to show our fans, our student body and our administration a product that they're really proud of."
The Blue Raiders open the season Saturday at 5 p.m. ET in Alcoa against defending state champ Maryville. The game is part of a Knoxville area kickoff classic triple-header.
The 2012 season officially kicks off for dozens of teams in Tennessee and North Carolina one day earlier, and Channel 3's award-winning Friday Night Football will have full coverage online and on the air at 11:10 p.m. ET on Friday night.
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