Cleveland holds weekly training sessions for youth

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, July 28, 2018

Chico Cleveland pulls his black, four-door Toyota Tundra up onto the grass field at Bloch Park every afternoon Monday through Friday with his training cones, cooler filled with water and a few footballs.

Each day he runs a training session for aspiring football players at the base of the hill at the front of the park.

Boys and even a few girls, from across the community come to workout with Cleveland. The Morgan Academy pee-wee team also come to the park to work through drills with Cleveland.

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Cleveland isn’t affiliated with any particular team, but welcomes anyone willing to come and join his sessions.

There are no pads and no helmets. No lines to mark downs or distance. It’s just Cleveland and his cones for a full session of conditioning and agility training.

“They are basically drills that they’re going to see in the near future,” he said. “Whether they’re playing high school football or they get to move on to college football, these are drills that they’ll be seeing and hopefully will be familiar with. We’re doing agility drills, speed drills, confidence and team building drills. Different things that are going to build their confidence up and improve their speed, agility, conditioning, coordination and balance.”

After leading the kids through stretches and warm-ups, Cleveland instructs the kids through the different series of cones he has sets up for them.

A variation of sprinting, shuffling and weaving sets gets them through the cone course until they finish the drill.

Then comes the hill. It seems small from the street, but the steep decline proves to be a challenging workout for the kids who have to sprint up each set.

The higher they get, the more effort it takes to pick up the next leg and drive themselves closer to the top.

And that’s how hard it is before Cleveland sets up an obstacle course on the hill to increase the challenge.

No matter the challenge, Cleveland encourages the kids each step of the way. He pushes them through the end and celebrates with them once they finish. The drill isn’t finished until they pass Cleveland.

By the end of each training session, the kids are exhausted but smiling. It’s more than a workout for the kids, but they have fun training with Cleveland. He’s always smiling between whistles and is patient with them regardless of their talent or skill level.

Parents seek out Cleveland’s training not only because he’s good with the kids, but also because he has plenty of experience in the sport.

He was a standout high school athlete for Selma High before he earned a scholarship to play football at UAB. He could’ve played offense or defense for the Blazers, but chose to remain on the offensive side of the ball during his college career.

“I was recruited out of high school by every SEC school for defense, but I chose to go play offense,” he said.

After playing in college, Cleveland extended his playing career in the Arena Football League and played for two years in Birmingham and Texas. He then went overseas to play football in Graz, Austria.

“That’s where it ended,” he said. “After coming back to Selma, my stepdad passed away right before I signed my next contract to go play in Oslo, Norway.”

The end of his football career, however, didn’t end his career in sports. He returned to Selma and coached wide receivers at Concordia College Alabama (CCA), was the sports information director at Selma University and coached volleyball at CCA the past two seasons before the school closed.

He also has become an entrepreneur. He has his own videography business, Selma Pro Shot, but he loves giving back to his community where he got his start. He’s also a member of the Black Belt Benefit Group, which is involved in several charities in the Selma area.

He doesn’t charge a lot per session because he wants to be accessible to everyone.

He remembers playing football on the same field where he trains the young kids each day. Just across the parking lot from Memorial Stadium where he shined for the Selma Saints.

“Based off the experience I had of basically having to recruit for myself, advocate for myself and make my own workout videos and highlight videos to send off to colleges. I knew that somehow I could be an asset to these kids out here,” Cleveland said. “And the best way to do it was to start young and get them at the younger ages. I just figured there were a lot of guys who were not playing baseball, basketball or any other sport that in the off season they could improve. This was a way during the summer time to offer them a chance to improve.”

The end of the session is cued by the arrival of parents pulling into the parking lot to pick up their exhausted kids. After the final drills, the kids who are drenched in sweat, make their way across the grass back toward their parents.

“Thanks, Chico!” multiple parents call out before they prepare to drive back.

Dr. Samer Assaad, whose child went through Cleveland’s workout session this past Wednesday, has been pleased with the work Cleveland has been able to do with his son and the other children.

“I want my kids to be active, exercise, play sports and that’s what I encourage everyone in my practice,” he said. “I’m a pediatrician, and I encourage kids to do activities instead of sitting all day playing video games.

“I know that he was a good football player, and he likes to be involved with the kids and encourage them. [My son] loves it.”

At the end of the day, Cleveland packs up his truck and gets ready for the next session.

“My main thing is just to help these guys improve and get some social awareness about themselves and their community,” Cleveland said. “If I could be a positive role model in their eyes, and let them see something positive in this community face-to-face and interact with them on a daily basis.”