SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — For all the obstacles Rob Patton had to face as the first-year head football coach at Social Circle last fall — a young roster combined with COVID-19-induced limitations — he did enjoy one major break.
During the preseason, Tucker Cleary transferred into the program from Eastside High School in Covington. By season’s end, he was the Redskins’ leading tackler by a long shot. He finished with 127 tackles, nearly double the next highest defender on the team.
Defense wasn’t exactly the Redskins strength last fall. They allowed more than 34 points a game. Imagine how much higher that number might have been had Cleary not shown up.
“He had an incredible year,” Patton said of his defensive stopper. “I just hope he won’t have to make so many tackles this year.”
Certainly, with the majority of last year’s starters back, the Redskins should have a more experienced defense and are expected to be explosive on offense. That combination should make for a stingier unit.
So Patton might be surprised to hear that his returning middle linebacker has set his goals even higher this year.
“I’m hoping to get 200 tackles,” Cleary said.
Given his obvious skills combined with his relentless off-season workouts, such a lofty goal is hardly out of reach. Besides leading the team in stats on the field, he’s also among the heaviest lifters in the weight room.
He’s benching 305 pounds, power cleaning 280, and squatting 500.
“Weight lifting is very important to me,” Cleary said. “I want to be stronger than the guys in front of me so I can push them around.”
It’s that attitude, and his impressive lifts, that have led to a position shift on offense. Last year, when called on to play both sides of the ball, he was used largely as a blocking back. Given his increased size (5-10, 220 pounds) and strength, he’ll be playing guard on offense.
“You’ve got somebody like that who can give you a push, you’ve got to put him there,” Patton said.
Still, Cleary is expected to once again make his biggest mark on defense.
“He’s the leader of that unit,” Patton said. “He makes all the checks and he plays hard all the time and his motor never stops.”
Although he’s yet to receive any offers, Cleary has his sights set on the next level. He knows a big senior year could help reach that goal.
“I just want us to win more games, get to the playoffs, and go further than we did last year,” Cleary said. “If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”