Cleveland Will Likely Redshirt This Season

FAYETTEVILLE -- After several months of uncertainty and varying medical opinions, the decision has been made that Arkansas tight end Ben Cleveland will likely redshirt this season because of nerve damage in his neck.

Rick Cleveland said Tuesday that he's been told by doctors that his son will need anywhere from six months to one year for the nerve damage to fully heal. The problem has caused Ben Cleveland to lose strength in his left arm.

Cleveland's father said he was told by a doctor on Monday that it would be "crazy" for the former Springdale High star to return to the football field this season and risk further injury.

"The doctors said that he's got 10-12 inches of damaged nerve (and) that the damaged nerves will grow back in anywhere between an inch to two inches a month," Rick Cleveland said. "So based on those statistics, you would have to say that at most a year, the minimum six months for it to heal."

Ben Cleveland and his father met with a specialist, Miles Johnson, in Rogers on Monday. During the visit, the sophomore was given a test to determine if he had regained the strength in his left arm.

"He didn't pass it," Rick Cleveland said.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt met with Ben Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the possibility of the tight end sitting out this season. Nutt said it was apparent that the sophomore would not be able to return for at least another few weeks.

"It's just disappointing and he's disappointed, naturally," Nutt said. "But we've got to do what's best for him."

Arkansas assistant athletic trainer Eric Linson said in late August that Ben Cleveland was diagnosed with nerve damage in his brachical plexus, which runs from the spine, through the neck and into the arm.

The diagnosis came after Ben Cleveland underwent a number of tests and visited with specialists in Little Rock and Houston. His father accompanied him to his visit with Johnson on Tuesday.

"The doctor told me yesterday (Ben) would be crazy to risk (playing this season)," Rick Cleveland said. "It's not healed."

An employee at Johnson's Fayetteville office said Tuesday afternoon that the doctor wouldn't be able to speak about Ben Cleveland's condition without first getting permission from the sophomore.

Ben Cleveland played as a freshman last season, catching 12 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught the game-winning touchdown to beat Alabama in double overtime last September.

But he's already missed the first two games of this season, and by getting a medical redshirt, he would still have three years of college eligibility remaining.

The time away would also allow for the damaged nerves -- which have caused the tight end to lose strength particularly from his left elbow up -- to heal properly.

"The outcome is (he's) probably going to be redshirting because it looks like it'll be another three, four weeks anyway before you got him back. It's just the nerve," Nutt said.

"What the doctors have told (Arkansas athletic trainer) Dean (Weber), it's still very, very weak right now. Right now, we're just counting on redshirting him."

Ben Cleveland was bothered by a similar injury leading up the Capital One Bowl last January. The problem continued during spring practice.

Cleveland's father said the seriousness of the injury was discovered this summer after his son felt pain while lifting weights in Arkansas' weight room. The tight end also noticed that he was "losing strength like crazy."

Still, the tight end returned to practice in August. But he aggravated the injury on Aug. 9 during Arkansas' first practice in full pads.

Ben Cleveland has visited with several specialists to try to determine the extent of the injury, but it has been suspected for some time that he would need to redshirt this season.

Rick Cleveland said Tuesday that he has been in favor all along of his son sitting out this year to let the damaged nerves heal.

"This is a hard decision for Ben to make," Rick Cleveland said.

"I said, 'What do you think, Ben?' He said, 'Dad, I can't risk it. I want to play football, I want to go to the next level (the NFL). I've been told I could get there. It's crazy. I want to play. I'd give anything to play.' But he says, 'I can't. I can't.'"

Hawgs Daily Top Stories