Cleveland Coping With Newfound Popularity

Cleveland Coping With Newfound Popularity

SPRINGDALE -- When discussing his move from Arkansas City, Kan., to Springdale back in 2004, Ben Cleveland said he told his dad -- former Denver Bronco Rick Cleveland -- that the Red Bulldogs' program and facilities more resembled a small college than any high school he had ever seen.

Of course, this spring practice also resembled a three-ring circus with the team on the field, tons of fans and media constantly around and a plethora of college coaches circling the festivities on the gridiron.

"The one thing it did was make you really have to focus with everything going on around because it certainly wasn't normal," Cleveland said. "But it was fun and business at the same time."

Cleveland, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end, may have been somewhat of an unknown going into this offseason because of a season that was cut short last year by a shoulder injury that limited him to 13 catches for 213 yards.

But college coaches saw enough of him on film and then enough on the field in the spring to start the scholarship offers rolling in.

As of Monday, Cleveland had 10 offers with Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Colorado State, Iowa, Michigan State, Tulsa, Texas A&M and Arkansas State all extending offers.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Miami jump in the fray soon as well since Miami head coach Larry Coker -- who was on hand as practices finished up last Thursday -- clearly was impressed with Cleveland as well.

"He's just a big old boy who has great size and can really catch the ball," Springdale head coach Gus Malzahn said. "I think he is a guy who missed out on some publicity last season because he got hurt, but a lot of the coaches have now seen him on tape, asked about and then got involved with when they see all that he can do."

Cleveland, who has also been told by Colorado to expect an offer, made a brilliant one-handed catch during the scrimmage that certainly showed that he has the hands to go with his size.

"It's all been really exciting," said Cleveland, whose dad played two seasons (1973-74) at Colorado before moving on to the NFL. "I think we have all been handling it well, just trying to stay humble. The Lord has really blessed us all."

Cleveland joins quarterback Mitch Mustain, wideouts Damian Williams and Andrew Norman and offensive lineman Bartley Webb as five Springdale players who have combined for more than 80 scholarship offers so far.

Cleveland credits Malzahn with helping the quintet, along with some other prospects the team has, in handling recruiting the right way.

"He's just been great," Cleveland said. "He sat the players and their parents down before it all started and told us what to expect and the best way to handle it. He's kind of helped us control the whole process and helped make it easier on us."

Arkansas and Michigan State are the only two schools that have offered all five players.

"Coach Malzahn sat us down before the start of spring practice and asked us if that is something we had thought about," Cleveland said. "It certainly would be great to do so, but he also made it clear that the key thing for all of us is for it to be best fit for us as individuals."

Cleveland has become a fan of the Arkansas program.

"Their facilities are as good as anybody's in the country and I really enjoy being around the staff," Cleveland said. "I think they are really ready for the program to go back up and have a lot of talent there to build around. There are really good people up there."

The 80-plus offers will soon be whittled down to 3-5 for each of the Springdale prospects.

"Coach Malzahn has told us that he would like for us to have it narrowed down now that spring ball is over," Cleveland said. "It's kind of hard, but that will give us a chance to set up some official visits and begin to get an idea of the ones we are really serious about."

Most of the Springdale prospects are expected to be on hand at the University of Texas on June 5 and then come back home for an Arkansas camp a few days later and then on to Tulsa for a team camp on June 9-11.

The players will then have June 13-24 off before coming back for 7-on-7 workouts beginning June 27, several 7-on-7 games and then tournaments at USC and in Hoover, Ala.

"It's going to be a busy summer both with football and recruiting, but we are all focused on next season and doing whatever we can to make the team better," Cleveland said. "That's the main goal there -- winning it all next season and doing whatever it takes to do so."

DUDLEY E. DAWSON IS A STAFF WRITER FOR HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH TUESDAY. E-MAIL: DEDSPORTS@AOL.COM

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