IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW: Commitment Ben Cleveland, TE

Tight end Ben Cleveland of Springdale (AR) was the latest of the class of 2006 recruits to commit to be a Florida Gator. The 6-4.5, 235 pound polished receiver will be a welcome cog to the offense after the recent departure of tight end Dane Guthrie from the roster. He was blown away by Gainesville, the facilities and everything about becoming a Gator.

(Ben Cleveland profile)

Growing up just 12 miles from the Arkansas Razorback's home stadium, Cleveland has been around big time football all his life. The pressure to play for the Hogs had to have been immense, but he saw enough at Florida to make him look elsewhere.

"It is a beautiful place first of all, there are 92,000 people every Saturday," he said. "When you walk in there your hair just stands up. It is a childhood dream to play there, it is one of those schools that everyone wants to go to."

      "It is a beautiful place first of all, there are 92,000 people every Saturday. When you walk in there your hair just stands up. It is a childhood dream to play there, it is one of those schools that everyone wants to go to." -- Ben Cleveland

He also sees a great chance to play ball early and often. With the spread offense at Florida and their willingness to use receiving tight ends and the mismatches they force, Cleveland could see a lot of balls thrown his way early.

"The offense showcases the tight end a bit," Cleveland said. "Since (Dane Guthrie) left, they have Tate Casey -- he is young, but he is the only one. That is a great chance at playing time. They aren't recruiting another one this year, so I should play early. Everywhere you go the depth matters. You don't want to go somewhere where they have eight tight ends and they are young."

Cleveland visited Gainesville twice this off-season. Like teammate Damian Williams, Cleveland came with Springdale Coach Gus Malzahn on a visit in the spring. He liked it enough to bring his father back with him again and let his father see what he liked so much about it. When we talked to him, he hadn't even told the Florida coaches that the final decision was done.

"We were down there twice, the first time I went with Coach Malzahn and a few players," he said. "It was really impressive, so I took my dad down there a couple of days ago. I told them I would like to come there. But we already committed to visiting a couple of other schools, so we did. When I got back, I was supposed to call coach Mullen and tell him. I am still in the process of getting ahold of him, but I think they are in a meeting."

From every recruit we talk to there seems to be the same bit about how they trust the coaches and what the coaches are saying to them. There seems to be a bond building already between coach and recruit that takes place after they arrive on campus.

Ben Cleveland impresses at passing tournament by catching everything...

"Coach Gonzales (receivers) and the rest of the coaches that will be coaching me are all first class guys," said Ben. "They are a great group of coaches. They were straight and honest and that was a big key. They weren't shooting the crud when they said the tight end was going to get the ball a lot. I come from a pass happy offense too, I'm not even a tight end here, I play wide receiver."

The Gators hope they aren't done at Springdale. Ben Cleveland is a big one they desperately wanted, but his teammate Damian Williams is another one that will make his decision soon. Cleveland thinks Florida has a good shot at Williams.

"I think Florida is really high on his list, and he is going to make his decision soon too," Cleveland said.

Coach Malzahn wants his players to make their decision before the season to get rid of some the distractions that recruiting brings.

"We have so much to do, we have a lot of distractions already, so he wants us to commit before the season," he said. regional scout Miller Safrit caught up with Cleveland at a recent passing tournament in Hoover (AL). Safrit scouts prospects for the and was highly impressed with Cleveland at the tournament.

"It was really fun to watch him," Safrit said. "He was playing in a four and five wide system and he was the outside receiver. For someone like him, you don't really expect him to be a guy going up against a corner and out-running them on a lot of different routes. It was fun to watch "Horse" as they like to call him. They throw a lot of wheel routes and fades. They threw the ball up and he was ready and willing to go get the ball. The biggest thing to me was his hands, they are really soft, he caught everything, and made the real tough catches in traffic."

Ben Cleveland is the perfect fit for the Gator offense when it comes to the tight end. The Gators want a mismatch guy that is not a blocking tight end, but a player that will get down the field, stretch defenses, and force a slower linebacker or a smaller secondary player to cover them. He is intelligent and really wants to be a Gator. Gator fans should welcome their newest commitment with open arms.

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