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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Football

Cleveland undertakes lead role in Cougars’ offense


Wide receiver James Cleveland hopes to improve upon his ability to make big plays and further solidify his reputation as a deep threat. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

With the loss of quarterback Case Keenum, wide receiver and offensive captain James Cleveland could find the burden of being a leader heavier than before.

During the first three games, Cleveland caught a touchdown reception and currently leads the team with 255 receiving yards. Against UTEP and UCLA, he caught the team’s only touchdowns in the air. Last season, he compiled 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns and appears to be off to another productive campaign.

His teammates and coaches refer to him as “Big” and with good reason. Weighing in at 205 pounds and standing 6-2, he is taller than his counterparts at receiver. He is also known for being vocal and even demanding of his teammates. Head coach Kevin Sumlin previously said that Cleveland is like a coach on the field.

Cleveland went to Baytown Lee High School and was a first team All-Greater Houston and all-district selection twice. His first collegiate experience was at Iowa.

He was redshirted as a freshman, but received playing time the next season. He was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten team after making 36 receptions for 464 yards.

But in October 2008, Cleveland’s career had a setback. He was arrested and charged with drug possession and dismissed from Iowa’s program.

Cleveland returned to Texas to get his athletic career back on track. He spent a year playing at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens. While at Trinity, Cleveland played well and learned a lesson in humility.

Sumlin recruited Cleveland to UH, giving him an opportunity to revive his football career.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for me,” Cleveland said. “I’m blessed to have it.

“God forbid I get injured this season. I hope to finish the season strong and end my college career.”

The Cougars may not repeat as the top offense in the NCAA, but the bar is still set high. Cleveland and his teammates are hoping to put up similar results.

“We want to take care of business every time we’re out there,” he said. “Statistically, we’re not thinking about numbers. The numbers will take care of themselves. We’re thinking about what we can control.”

On an individual note, Cleveland said he wants to make more game-changing plays this season. So far, his longest reception is 50 yards.

“I’m looking to take the ball to the end zone this year from 50-plus yards,” he said.

Cleveland has a legitimate chance to play professionally. NFL scouts have been keeping tabs on him, but he is more concerned with finishing strong. While the prospect of playing on Sundays is enticing, the senior said his priority is finishing with a statement.

“It’s already in motion,” he said. “They’ve been able to look at me for the past couple months. They’re coming out to practices now, but it’s not really high on my list of concerns.

“It’s my last year of college football. I’m trying to leave a special legacy for the Houston Cougars.”

Despite the loss of Keenum, the offense is still capable of showing its firepower. In the first three games, the unit averaged 45 points, good for seventh in the NCAA. C

leveland said he has no reservations on putting up monster numbers on the scoreboard and the stat sheet.

“No pity for anyone. No mercy.” he said. “It’s an eat or get eaten mentality out here. ”

When Cleveland hangs up his pads for good, he’ll look to put his playing experience to use. Like many of his teammates, he has no intentions on parting with the game after his playing career.

“I think I’ll be a fitting coach,” he said. “I want to help out in some way. Maybe not at the NFL level or collegiate level but in high school.”


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