Baytown, Texas must be feeling a bit colder during the winter months. That has nothing to due with an El Nino or La Nina effect, rather the number of its sons that have migrated north and are now of Kirk Ferentz's Iowa football program.
This year, wide receiver James Cleveland will be joining the Hawkeye program, but unlike the others, he will be doing so via a mid-semester enrollment straight from High School. The fact that Olin and Baytown have some Iowa ties, the decision was all Cleveland's.
"Coach Olin wanted me to go to Iowa, but he told me it was my own decision, and he left it completely up to me," Cleveland stated. "It's easy why I chose Iowa. Just look at their coaching staff, they are all top of the line of guys. A lot of them have NFL experience and background, too."
Cleveland was considered a strong Iowa lean this past summer, and was one of the first official visitors brought into Iowa City for the season opener against Ball State.
"At that time, I was really liking Iowa after seeing the season they had just come off of. I had watched how well they played in the bowl game, and the miracle play with Drew. Iowa also was going to be losing their top two wide receivers, and the coaches told me it would be wide open. Nobody has a starting position locked, and it would be up to me to come in and prove that I deserved to start," Cleveland said.
It wasn't much later in the season when Cleveland gave the Hawkeyes a verbal commitment. At that time, everybody expected him to be like all the other prep members in the Class of 2006 and sign a letter of intent on Signing Day.
Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa had yet to bring in anyone from the prep level as a mid-year signed, which affords them the opportuity to participate in spring drills. However, in losing starting wideouts Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon, Iowa knew if Cleveland would be able to do it, it would be beneficial to the program.
"Shortly after I committed, Coach Olin was the first to bring the idea up to me. I had to make a few changes in my course load, including taking night classes to earn credits for two courses, but my entire family felt it was the right move. Iowa isn't bringing me in to sit on the sidelines; there is a purpose for why I'm coming," Cleveland said.
The six-foot-two, 188-pounder will be joining a Hawkeye squad where he will be able to catch passes from his former teammate, Drew Tate.
Though there will be some level of familiarity, Cleveland says it will be a fresh start.
"I have never caught passes from Drew in a game, and it is going to be a fresh start as it would be with any new quarterback/wide receiver combination," added Cleveland, who graduated with a 3.3 GPA and 840 on SAT. "Drew and I are going to have learn each other's tendencies and become more comfortable with one another."
Jumping into the mix should not be too much of a problem for Cleveland, who was last summer's Texas 7 on 7 MVP, as he carries a solid reputation with him.
"Iowa told me that I'm the first polished wide receiver they have recruited in a long time. They have a lot of guys at the position that were last minute switches, or played quarterback or some other position in high school. They really like my route running, and the separation I'm able to create."
Like many committed prospects across the country, Cleveland still heard from other schools, including Texas A&M, Colorado, and Iowa State.
Cleveland made his second official visit to College Station, which was a secret to many people until it actually occurred.
"Texas A&M really worked my mother on the distance factor and keeping me at home. It also didn't hurt that Aggieville spreads all across the country with more than 200,000 members. All that didn't really matter, though, because I knew Iowa was a better place," Cleveland said.
After the official visit to Texas A&M, the only hurdle that remained in the way of Cleveland's mid-year transfer to Iowa was the sudden NFL rumors that popped up.
Coach Ferentz made one of his first in-home visits after the Outback Bowl to meet with the Cleveland family.
"Coach Ferentz said he wanted to meet my parents before I'd spend my next four years up there," said Cleveland, who will room with Julian Smith (another mid-year signee) this semester at Iowa. "My parents had a lot of questions, mainly about the NFL rumors, but Coach Ferentz told us he'd be staying at Iowa. My father is a big football fan, and after that, he just talked about the bowl game and the refs. That took up plenty of conversation."
Ferentz still had time to deliver a message to Cleveland, though.
"He told me that it is going to be a big change. I said I'm ready to go; here I'm come."