Image Credit: ESPNI
As head coach Jim McElwain has been rebuilding the Florida Gators offense, he’s been searching for reliable playmakers capable of breaking the game open at a moment’s notice.
It may have taken a few weeks more than initially anticipated, but it looks like the Gators have now found a true compliment for sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway in the passing game.
Freshman Tyrie Cleveland has been tough to count on early this season. In addition to a summer suspension for what was initially a felony charge of using a BB gun in and around a dorm, Cleveland has been hampered by a nagging hamstring injury that has forced him to miss practices and games. Even when he was cleared to play, Cleveland was working against a learning curve and seeing limited action.
Consider his game Saturday a breakout performance. Cleveland amassed a career-high 79 yards and his first touchdown in orange and blue against the Missouri Tigers, leading Florida in receiving on the afternoon. He matched Callaway with seven targets and three receptions but was simply more effective throughout, hauling in a 46-yard pass to convert a third down early in the game and a 20-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
“It was good to see him. He’s a talented guy. He’s a great person. He’s a great kid,” McElwain said after the game. “Struggling with those injuries and then the learning curve being behind a little bit. This is going to be a really important week for him as well as he continues to just grow into that offense and really give us another true big-time threat on the other side from Antonio. … I was excited for Tyrie. I’ll tell you what: He’s a guy that really cares and is excited to be here.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio said Cleveland’s athleticism was always apparent but developing the mental side of the game now really paid dividends for him and is now making him dangerous. “He’s competitive, man. He wants the ball every play,” Del Rio said.
Cleveland certainly has the pedigree. The Gators’ top-rated incoming freshman, he was a four-star prospect and the No. 33 player in the nation per the 247Sports Composite. A Florida native, he flipped from Houston on National Signing Day.
While on the subject of Cleveland, it would be remiss not to mention the tremendous first-year play of classmate
With up-and-coming playmakers like Cleveland and Perine, coupled with already-there talents like Callaway and junior WR Brandon Powell, things are looking good for a unit that still has to build some consistency at quarterback and on the offensive line.