Despite ‘ups and downs’, Cleveland grateful for time at Florida

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Florida Statelinebacker Leonard Warner III (35) tries to strip the ball from Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland during Saturday's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

After helping lead the Gators to an undefeated record at home in his final season, Tyrie Cleveland stopped in the end zone and dropped to one knee. 

What was once a childhood dream had become his reality, and Cleveland was simply overwhelmed with emotion.

“I was just taking a moment to thank God for the opportunity to be at the University of Florida. It’s been a long ride, been a long journey for me. A lot of ups and downs, but I stayed strong and true to myself,” he said. “I was just grateful to play here.”

Yet it wouldn’t have been hard to blame Cleveland, who was ranked the No. 34 overall prospect in the 2016 class by 247Sports, for being ungrateful or having mixed emotions about his time at Florida. 

A heralded deep-threat with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash coming out of high school, Cleveland was the highest ranked prospect UF signed in the 2016 class  — yet his Florida career in the eyes of many was defined by a series of significant plays rather than his all-around body of work. 

Unfair as it may be, Cleveland likely knows it’s the truth. 

Many will think of “The Heave to Cleve”, or his 98-yard touchdown at LSU when his name comes to mind, two plays he made as an underclassmen — they didn’t see him attack early-morning workouts, nor did they witness him anguish through rehab after rehab. 

And his encouragement of teammates in need? Seems that’s taken for granted, too.

With Florida’s deep and talented receiving corps, Cleveland strove to be selfless rather than selfish.

“It’s like no other. Through the ups and downs, we always try to motivate each other,” said Cleveland, reflecting on the bond the wide receivers share. “(We) just keep our heads up — going through practice, just working hard, working on our craft. And outside of football, just linking up, just being with each other.”

They’re teammates, yet competitors vying for minutes and reps — the major determinant for a professional future. 

Simply put, fewer plays means fewer opportunities to make it. 

That concept is often foreign to athletes looking to realize a dream, and it’s one Cleveland is no stranger to.

“No matter what, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much adversity hits you, just stay true to yourself. Have faith and keep working hard because one day it’s going to be your time,” Cleveland said when asked what he would have told his 17-year-old self. “I’m just thankful and grateful.”

The reality is that Cleveland’s best football is ahead of him. With the ideal size and speed to be an NFL deep threat, he could be taken higher than many expect — and, once again, evaluations are based more on reps rather than a lack thereof, and Cleveland has no shortage of impressive plays. 

Until then, he’ll heed his own advice: one day, Tyrie, it’s going to be your time.

Florida’s always gonna have a place in my heart, and I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play for the University of Florida, and the future is bright for the Florida program,” Cleveland said. “I wish I could have some more years to play here.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for being a man of exemplary character and commitment Tyrie; the UF and all other universities need more like you. You’re a gifted athlete, and provided you keep your eyes on Him who has given you those gifts, you’ll be just fine. Never be afraid to say His name and let others know about Him along the way. Jesus is The King.

  2. You are right about Jesus, he’s the KING and always will be. Now, I agree with Franks about transfering where he might play. If not, he can always play baseball. I’m like everyone else in wishing him the best in the future. After the bowl game the softball season starts in feb. So there’s always Gator sports to watch…….🐊🏈

  3. Tyrie Cleveland is an outstanding athlete who will be drafted in the 1st three rounds (hoping for 1st or 2nd) and will prove his worth to the NFL team that is wise enough to choose him. His lack of selfishness has caused him to mature faster than most young men his age, and this will be noticed by the NFL. Thank you, Tyrie, for your amazing contribution to the Gator football team. You will be remembered in a very good way by the Gator Nation. GO GATORS!!!

  4. I’ll remember him by those big plays but also for the plays on special teams. In 2018 before his injury he was the best special teams punt cover guy in the SEC. I think Jefferson laid claim to that title in 2019, but really great to see those guys play special teams and split the load on offense without being divisive.

  5. I wish Florida had A RECRUITING COACH and committee. Cleveland would definitely be the president. In his 4 years, I never heard one complaint from him about anything. He did whatever he was asked to do–and did it to the best of his ability. Class act and I hope to see him playing on Sunday as a starting WR. All the best Mr. Cleveland.

  6. Great article, Graham. Tyrie was always one of my favorite players. He was always underutilized IMO but made the most of his ops when presented. I’m certain he will test well at the UF pro day and he along with Van and Frankie will make some NFL team very happy. They are great guys and my favorite play will always be that catch and run from Austin in the famed ‘tigah stadium’ a couple of years ago. Was shedding tears to see he, Frankie, Perine, and Van walk off of the field for the final time in The Swamp. I wish them nothing but the best as they have been Great Gators but better than that Great MEN!! Good luck guys and I will be rooting for all of you. GEAUXXX GATORS!!