University of Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland before the Florida Gators game against the Missouri Tigers / Gator Country photo by David Bowie The tears started coming before the clock hit double zeroes. The disappointment of 54-16 SEC Championship game loss to Alabama hit everyone in Orange and Blue but freshman Tyrie Cleveland was inconsolable.
Austin Appleby walked over to Cleveland as the freshman stood silently staring at the Alabama celebration. Appleby thanked Cleveland for everything he had done that year.
Cleveland, along with Appleby and tight end C’yontai Lewis had a hard time leaving the field. All three were emotional and that didn’t change 30 minutes after the game when reporters were allowed in the locker room.
Cleveland sat there, towel over his head fighting back tears.
A losing battle.
“I expected to get here. All of us expected to get here,” he choked out. “I wish we could have, on the other side of this.”
The SEC Championship game was a culmination for a whirlwind year in Cleveland’s life.
He was committed to Houston and now former Cougar coach Tom Herman. Tim Skipper, Kerry Dixon and Jim McElwain coveted Cleveland. The 6-2 receiver had all the talent in the world and they badly needed help on offense. In order to flip Cleveland it would take some convincing. Cleveland was born and grew up in Jacksonville. When his brother, 19 at the time, was murdered. Cleveland was just 13 years old. Cleveland lived in Houston with is aunt and she was the one that had to be convinced that Gainesville, only an hour away from a tragedy that ripped the family apart, would be safe.
The trio of coaches assured the family that they would take care of Cleveland. Then, just over a month after he arrived in Gainesville he made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Cleveland and childhood friend Rick Wells, who were reunited in Gainesville, were arrested in July when security cameras caught them shooting BB guns into a dormitory. The duo received deferred prosecution and were suspended for the first game of the season. Cleveland also suffered a hamstring injury during fall camp. That, along with the summer arrested, limited him to playing in just one of the first three games.
“Injuries and off the field issues made me start off a little slow,” Cleveland said. “It’s a start off that I didn’t want but everything happens for a reason.”
Cleveland’s off the field issue was immature and selfish. It, luckily, was a victimless crime but still showed that the freshman had a long way to go. Now, five months later, emotional after a loss, Cleveland showed growth. He had only 13 catches on the season and none in the SEC Championship but he didn’t point the finger at his coaches.
“I felt like (offensive coordinator Dog Nussmeier) did a great job game planning for us and putting us in the right position to make plays,” Cleveland said after the SEC Championship. “We just have to make them. It would’ve been a totally different game if we […]