Both players still vividly remember the moment.
Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells were in eighth grade on their way to Mr. Roundtree’s class when they made a pact.
“I just came out and told him,” Cleveland recalls, “‘Bro, we’re going to play college ball together.’ We agreed to it and said we wouldn’t forget that, and we never did.”
Five years later, after being separated throughout high school by 900 miles, Cleveland and Wells will reunite next month when they enroll at Florida, their dream school while growing up together in Jacksonville.
“We’ve known each other since we were little kids,” Wells said. “We played Pop Warner together, from five years old all the way on up. Then in middle school we played sports together, so we were always tight.”
But Cleveland and his family relocated to Houston during his eighth grade year, splitting up the long-time friends. They briefly lost touch after the move, then reconnected on social media.
“We started keeping in touch on Facebook and Twitter,” Cleveland said. “I followed his high school career and kept up with him to see how he was doing, and he did the same with me.”
The wide receivers soon developed into four-star recruits and started picking up similar offers. But they were waiting on one school in particular.
“My 11th grade year, I committed to Florida as soon as they offered me,” Wells said. “Tyrie still didn’t have an offer yet, but he got it a couple months later. He called me up and goes, ‘Guess what boy, we might have a chance to play together.’ After that it was on.”
Cleveland, however, didn’t immediately jump on board last spring. He was pledged to Texas A&M at the time and de-committed from the Aggies that week.
Houston landed him two months before signing day, but Wells didn’t want to see Cleveland spend another four years in Texas.
“I started pushing Florida to him, sending Gator emojis every day,” Wells said. “I told him he couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Florida was where he always wanted to be. I got him to come on my official with me.”
Cleveland and Wells visited UF on the final weekend of the recruiting cycle, bringing back childhood memories of their friendship. Three days later, Cleveland flipped from Houston and signed with the Gators.
Cleveland literally didn’t tell anyone prior to his announcement, including his family members, but he couldn’t fool Wells.
“Oh, I knew,” Wells said with a smile. “He didn’t have to tell me. I know him.”
Cleveland and Wells are expected to upgrade the talent at wide receiver, and Florida coach Jim McElwain is looking forward to their arrival.
“Excited about both of them obviously,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “Those two guys were buddies growing up and played together in different leagues. We got see that camaraderie pick right back up when they came on the same visit weekend.
“Those are two size guys. They have the physical size and speed, the ability to play the position in the SEC. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Cleveland can’t wait to line up in The Swamp with Wells beside him.
“That’s all we’ve been talking about,” Cleveland said. “We’re just ready to get there and go to work. This isn’t little league for us. It’s a business trip.
“We talked about this moment and now we’re about to actually live it. It’s crazy.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi