GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In one breath Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland dismisses the notion that his freshman campaign was frustrating, but later he says one of the key lessons he took away from that first season is to remaining patient and not get so frustrated.
Cleveland understandably doesn’t want to dwell on what did or didn’t happen last fall, but he knows as well as anyone that he hasn’t come close to achieving his full potential yet.
And that’s not a knock on the speedy receiver. He was slowed by a hamstring injury through the first part of last season and even once healthy never received a steady stream of targets within Florida’s limited offense.
He and the Gators are hoping that all will change in 2017.
“I can’t go back and make it happen. Coming in I was expected to do a lot more,” Cleveland admitted after practice Wednesday. “Like I said, my hamstring slowed me down. I ain’t making any excuses. I just had to stick with the process when I got in.”
The most heralded player in Florida’s 2016 recruiting haul and ranked the No. 2 wide receiver nationally in his class, Cleveland ended the year with 14 catches for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns.
That did include the Gators’ best offensive play of the season, that 98-yard touchdown at LSU as he made a great play for the ball along the sideline and then sprinted into the end zone for a pivotal score in what would become a momentous win.
Cleveland’s Gators debut was complicated from the start, though. First there was the BB gun incident and ensuing consequences that hung over him through the preseason. Then the nagging hamstring injury that kept him out of practice and slowed his development within the offense.
He says it took him until the third week of the regular season to start finding any comfort with the offense and speed of the game.
That’s why he’s so encouraged now, though, having had this full offseason and spring practice to further his confidence in the playbook and his place in the offense heading into his sophomore year.
“I think I did good. Got better at running routes, the little details on the routes and the plays. Lining up fast. So overall I think I did pretty good,” Cleveland said. “Yeah, I got held back (last year) with a hamstring. So, you know, I was kind of behind. As the season went on I started learning it. And this spring, I kind of got it all down pat.”
In one breath Cleveland says he doesn’t carry any personal goals into this season, only wanting to make plays to put his team in position to win. Later, though, he sets the bar high.
“I feel like this offense can produce a 1,000(-yard) receiver, close to like a 900(-yard receiver) for the second. But we’ve got to see,” he said.
Florida hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002, the last in a string of eight straight years having a player reach that mark.
Antonio Callaway’s 721 receiving yards last season was actually the second-most by a non-tight end in the last nine years, behind only Demarcus Robinson’s 810 from 2014.
Callaway, a junior, and Cleveland are set to form a formidable combo as the Gators’ top passing targets, with the hope that a sophomore surge from Cleveland will take some of the defensive pressure and attention off Callaway and open up the offense in general.
While all eyes will be on the Gators’ young quarterbacks Friday night in the annual spring game, those downfield playmakers are just as eager to make a strong impression and give a tease of things to come in the fall.
“We’re ready to come put on a show, give the fans a little idea of our offense, what it’s going to be this year,” Cleveland said. “But mainly just have fun, play for the fans, play for each other.”
All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.