GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A couple of childhood dreams could come true for Tyrie Cleveland on National Signing Day.
Cleveland, the nation’s No. 2 wide receiver and a consensus top-100 overall prospect, lives in Houston and attends Westfield, which produced one of the best high school football teams in Texas.
Cleveland, however, is originally from Jacksonville and lived there until he was 11. He returned to Duval County for middle school before moving to the Lone Star State.
“I moved to Houston so I could play with a top (high school) program,” Cleveland said.
But growing up in Florida, he was a fan of the Gators and visited UF last summer. The experience blew him away.
“Just seeing it for the first time ever, it was amazing,” Cleveland said. “I grew up watching the Gators. I was all about Tim Tebow, man. So me coming to the facilities in Gainesville and seeing everything in person really shocked me. Just being around a bunch of Gator players, it was like living a dream.”
Cleveland will relive that dream this weekend when he officially visits UF just days ahead of signing day. Florida’s 10-win season and SEC East title caught his attention this fall, as did the play and production of record-setting freshman receiver Antonio Callaway.
“They put a group of talented kids together and they bought into the program. The season they had was unbelievable,” Cleveland said of the Gators. “Unfortunately they couldn’t finish it off, but I feel like they’re definitely going in the right direction.
“Seeing what Callaway did was big for me. I’m trying to go somewhere where I can earn a spot and work for it so I can get on the field early and make plays. I’m not trying to go somewhere and sit on the bench. I want to help the program and be a team player. I’m trying to win a bunch of games and championships, and I can do that at Florida.”
Cleveland is currently committed to Houston, but that pledge is shaky.The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder took trips to Arkansas and TCU this month, but the Cougars did not receive an official. He will make a final decision Wednesday.
UF receivers coach Kerry Dixon II, a Houston native, has been actively recruiting Cleveland for months and secured his final visit.
“First and foremost, I can relate to him,” Cleveland said of Dixon. “He’s from Houston and grew up where I live. The guy is very smart and always looking to improve. To me, I feel like our connection and relationship is very strong right now. We talk to each other a lot.
“With him being my recruiter and also the receivers coach, it’s really a boost for Florida. If I do decide to commit there, that’s the guy I’m going to be around for the next three to four years. So having built that relationship now and earning all the respect between the both of us, it’s a good thing.”
Dixon most recently went to see Cleveland last week, and UF coach Jim McElwain will have an in-home visit with him Thursday night before his trip. When Cleveland gets to Gainesville, he’ll reunite with a former classmate who might be his teammate in college.
Gators wide receiver commit Rick Wells of Jacksonville and Cleveland go way back.
“That’s my boy, man,” Cleveland said of Wells. “We had classes together in middle school. We played against each other in little league and grew up together throughout our middle school years. We’ve built a relationship, and I know Rick pretty well. These past weeks we’ve been talking more and more on the phone.”
Cleveland still recalls something he predicted to Wells when they were in junior high.
“Five years ago,” Cleveland said, “I told him, ‘Bro, we’re going to play college ball together.’ We were on our way to Mr. Roundtree’s class. Ever since then, we just put our heads to it and locked in.
“I can’t wait to meet up with him again and chop it up over all the lost time we had. We’re going to have a good time, and we’ll see if we end up being teammates.”
For that to happen, Cleveland wants to find out a few things during his trip to Florida.
“I need to know how they’re going to use me my freshman year,” he said. “I just need to ask a lot of questions, and I want the truth. That’s what it’s going to come down to.
“I’m going to come down there and look everything over again, hang out with the players and see how they are. Then when I see the coaches one-on-one, I’m going to be real with them and I want them to be real with me.”
Cleveland will be joined on the visit by his aunt, whom he lives with in Texas. His mother, sister, father and most of his family members still reside in Florida. He said they would be happy to see him attend UF, though he’s going to primarily seek his aunt’s advice.
But ultimately, it will come down to where Cleveland wants to go.
“At the end of the day, it’s my decision,” he said. “I think my people here in Texas wouldn’t be too hard on me if I go to Florida. I’m the one that has to live down there, but I grew up watching the Gators. If I do decide to go there and play my college football career, that’s a decision I’m going to make.
“I’m going to talk to my family before making it, just to let them know. But I don’t think me traveling back to Florida won’t be a problem.”
All player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.