Clay Cleveland is listed as an offense starter for the 2013 Syracuse Orange, his second straight year as the team's fullback. He has seen plenty of action in the first few games, primarily as a lead blocker for the stable of talented running backs the Orange have in their arsenal.
He has a thankless job, running full speed into a hole where the primary goal is a head on collision with players often bigger and stronger. Most fans don't notice his contributions. Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley and the like get all of the fanfare when he does his job to perfection.
On top of all that, Cleveland is a walk-on. He pays his tuition just like the accountant or engineer that doesn't play a varsity sport. Yet on Saturday, he was noticed by Orange fans as much as anyone in their blowout win over Tulane.
Cleveland had the most productive game in his career. Not only did he block for a Syracuse rushing attack that finished with over 200-yards and three touchdowns, but he caught two touchdowns of his own.
"It was a long time coming," Cleveland said after the game. "Last year I was starting, but we ran the spread and I didn't get in as much as I would have liked. I stuck with it and now the hard work is paying off."
Cleveland's first touchdown came in the first quarter. On playaction, quarterback Terrel Hunt looked for an open receiver as he rolled to the right. He then noticed Cleveland, who ran out of the backfield and into the flat, had no one within 10-yards of him. Hunt delivered the ball on target for an easy score.
"I didn't know I was so open," Cleveland said. "It all happened at once. It was awesome though."
On his second touchdown, they ran the same play. This time, Cleveland was the primary read rather than the check down option. Though it was covered better than the first time by the Green Wave, Cleveland was still open. Hunt delivered a strike and Cleveland reached the ball over the goal line for a touchdown.
"We ran the same exact play," Cleveland said. "The first one they were covering me late on it and we noticed it and took advantage of it."
According to head coach Scott Shafer, his teammates call him "Clutch" Cleveland. He certainly lived up to that name on Saturday.