More focused approach has led to breakout season for Free State High RB Dash Cleveland

Free State senior running back Dash Cleveland attempts to find an opening in the game against Olathe South. Free State won 33-14 Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

Free State running back Dash Cleveland has found his footing on and off the football field as one of the Firebirds’ top rushing options during the past two seasons.

The senior’s growth on the field has impressed many of his teammates and coaches this season.

“His commitment to football has grown over the last four years,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said of his starting tailback. “He’s taken football more seriously this year.”

Cleveland credits his strong season to his work throughout the offseason. And his 552 yards and 6.4 yards-per-carry average through six games have proven that the work — both physically and mentally — was worth it.

“I can see, as well as others, that I have been hitting the hole,” Cleveland said of his running style on game days. “I would usually try to rely on my speed back then (freshman year) but now I am starting to figure out that I need to hit the hole and go up the field.”

With a solid offensive line blocking for him, Cleveland often finds himself one broken tackle from taking it the distance, which he has done six times so far this season.

Although speed is what Cleveland has been known for throughout his career, his heart and passion have stood out for the Firebirds this season.

In Free State’s Week 5 win over Mill Valley, Cleveland suffered an injury that took him out for the rest of the game. However, his excitement showed following the emotional win and he was seen jumping into the locker room alongside his teammates and coaches.

Another area of Cleveland’s growth has shown up in how he works with veteran teammates Jordan Brown, Jerred Willits, and especially quarterback Jet Dineen.

The impact Cleveland and Dineen have had on this program has been well known throughout the school. The two constantly work together to make themselves and the team better, and it has paid off, with the two rushing for more than 1,300 yards combined and leading the Firebirds to a 5-1 record thus far.

“It’s been really fun,” Cleveland said. “Competing with him to see who gets more yards is really fun. We both have a similar play type and we’re also both buds.”

Once the football season comes to a close, Cleveland will turn his attention to the hardwood, where he also plays basketball for the Firebirds.

Balancing multiple sports and school hasn’t been easy for Cleveland, but he has learned different skills that he thinks will help him after high school.

“I have been managing to keep up with it by managing my time more and cutting time out for silly things, such as relaxing,” Cleveland said. “I have become more organized.”

While winning remains the ultimate goal for Cleveland the rest of the season, he said showing people what Free State football is all about was equally important to him.

“I want to remember my friends and all the fun times I had with them,” Cleveland said. “I want this year to be the year that people think of Free State and are like, ‘Wow, that’s a good team.’ I really want to do a lot with this team.”

Next up for Cleveland and the Firebirds (5-1) is a Friday showdown with Shawnee Mission East at FSHS. After that, Free State will wrap up the regular season against crosstown rival Lawrence High on Oct. 22.

Free State senior running back Dash Cleveland is jubilant during the game against Olathe South. Free State won 33-14 Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.


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