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.”