GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Early in the second quarter last Saturday, freshman wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland hauled in his first career reception and had barely hit the ground before bounding into a Gator chomping celebration through the end zone.
Just in case it wasn’t clear how much he’s been waiting to make his presence felt for Florida.
Gators fans have been just as eager to see Cleveland announce his arrival, for that matter.
The much ballyhooed true freshman — a 4-star recruit from Houston, Texas, ranked the No. 2 overall receiver nationally in his class — was suspended for the season opener relating to the offseason BB gun incident that got he and fellow rookie Rick Wells in trouble. That was compounded, though, by a hamstring injury in preseason camp that sidelined him during a key time for development, and he then re-injured the muscle in the second game against Kentucky after a brief debut.
All told, Cleveland’s much anticipated freshman season has not gone as planned.
But that catch — a 36-yard reception down the right sideline that set up Florida at the 4 and helped the Gators go up 21-0 early on Tennessee — was a start.
“I was excited for him, really I was,” Florida wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon said this week. “I was a little nervous because he ran through the end zone Gator chomping, but I was excited for the kid. He’s been through a lot, and for him to go out and get a taste for what it feels like is really good for him.”
Fans have clamored for Cleveland all season, and the Gators’ wide receiver hierarchy beyond sophomore star Antonio Callaway and junior Brandon Powell seems wide open.
Fellow freshmen Josh Hammond (8 catches for 118 yards) and Freddie Swain (6 catches for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns) have been the standout newcomers so far, but Dixon said the opportunity is still there for Cleveland to carve out a role in the offense.
“Josh and Freddie, they both got here (in January), so they understand the offense a lot better,” Dixon said. “Rick and Tyrie both missed some time during fall camp so they’re just now catching up to the learning curve, but those guys have done a great job. They care about it, they come in and get extra work and that’s a competitive group. Those young guys are really competitive. They want to play and they want to push the guys in front of them.”
Dixon said he has tried not to put too much on Cleveland’s plate, but he was impressed with how the freshman stayed engaged in meetings even while sidelined by the hamstring injury.
“The more and more he gets into it, everybody has the opportunity to play, so if he continues to grow and continues to learn and understand the game he has the opportunity to be out there quite a bit,” Dixon said.
Cleveland totaled 2,091 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns (3 on special teams) the last two seasons at Westfield High School in Houston.
Hammond, another 4-star recruit and the No. 32-rated receiver in the class, has received the most praise from the coaching staff to this point. Swain, yet another 4-star recruit and the No. 23 overall receiver in the class, has produced the most highlights with his two touchdowns.
But Cleveland is the guy fans are focused most on given the hype that surrounded his recruitment and signing, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain feels those lofty expectations are attainable.
“He’s just got to become more comfortable with what he’s doing, understand his assignments, the attention to detail it takes to be in the right spots,” McElwain said. “This guy’s got a chance to be something special here.”
All recruiting rantings are from the 247sports composite ranking.