Work, versatility give him role with Orange
The college games are down to a precious dozen or so for Syracuse University senior running back and receiver Clay Cleveland , a football standout at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford and Phillips Academy in Andover.
He has the final contest of the regular season circled on the calendar, not because it is his last regular-season game, but because of who the opponent is and where it will be played. The Orange will face Boston College Nov. 29 in Chestnut Hill.
“I’ve got it marked down, and so does my family,” said Cleveland. “It’s probably the most exciting game we’ve had for me, getting to play in Boston. That will be a special Thanksgiving weekend.”
There is much football between now and the end of November, starting with the season opener Friday in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse against Villanova. But what better way to cap a career for Cleveland, who wanted to push himself and see just how far he could take college football, than to play so close to home?
It hasn’t been the easiest road. Cleveland was not offered a scholarship to Syracuse, but went as a recruited walk-on. Playing time was hard to come by in his first three seasons, and there was no guarantee things would get much better.
“When you’re walking on, it’s not easy for the first couple of years,” said Phillips coach Leon Modeste. “It’s brutal. No one cares about you. You’re on scout team this and scout team that. You have to be driven, and you have to be very determined.”
First- and second-teamers line up to take their shots at the scout team guys, whose entire job is to prepare the rest of the team for battle.
“It’s not for everyone,” said Jim Pugh, who coached Cleveland at Masconomet. “Clay could have gone and played at a Division II or Division III school and been a great player, but he had the dream and he followed it. Good for him.”
Modeste, who coached Cleveland for a postgraduate year at Phillips, raves about his leadership and playing abilities and his perseverance.
So, too, does Pugh.
“I knew him from the sixth grade, and he’s always been a hard worker,” Pugh said. “He busted his butt his whole life to get where he’s at. He’s not the fastest kid, but no one outworks him. And he has great hands. He made some of the most unbelievable catches we’ve seen.”
Before Cleveland arrived at school, Modeste thought he was probably going to be used primarily as a defensive player. Then Modeste got a look at Cleveland carrying the ball. He became the team’s featured running back.
At 6-1 and almost 230 pounds, Cleveland has been mostly a blocking back at Syracuse, though he did score his only two career touchdowns on short passes in a win over Tulane last September.
That game came a little over a month after Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer called Cleveland and Joe Nassib up in front of the team during a meeting and announced they were going to receive scholarships. The hard work and commitment had paid off.
The payoff continues. This summer, tight ends coach Bobby Acosta called Cleveland into his office and asked if he would be interested in playing some at H-Back, a cross between fullback and tight end, which could give him a chance to catch more passes and stay on the field for more plays.
“He asked if I’d be willing to expand my role,” Cleveland said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ It’s my last year and I want to do whatever I can to help us be successful.”
The Orange want to run the offense at a faster pace, and the more versatile the players, the better, Acosta said. They can stay on the field and play in different formations, and the defense will not be able to get other players on the field to adjust.
“He’s very versatile, and when we have someone like that we can do a lot with the tempo,” Acosta said. “Clay is maybe only 6 feet tall, but his heart is huge. He gives extreme effort. He has good hands and decent speed, and he’s tough. We want our guys to be tough, competitive, and smart, and that ultimately symbolizes what we are.”
The description fits Clay Cleveland well, too.
Here and there
The UMass Lowell women’s soccer team was picked ninth of nine teams in America East in the preseason coaches’ poll. First-year head coach Joel Bancroft, who moved into the top spot after a year as an assistant, has brought 15 recruits into the fold. Among them are freshman Megan Rauseo, a forward from Methuen who played at Central Catholic in Lawrence; and sophomore defender Bailey Ditcham, who played at Westford Academy and transferred to UMass
Lowell after a year at the University at Albany. Their first home game of the season takes place Sunday against Siena. UMBC was picked first in the poll, and Stony Brook was second. . . . Kevin MacIntyre of North Reading and TJO Sports lost in the final game of their Boston Park League championship series, 2-1 in 10 innings, to Palmer. Palmer won the title four games to three. MacIntyre, a 51-year-old right-handed pitcher, was featured in last week’s Notebook after picking up a pitching win to close out a semifinal series against Towne Club. MacIntyre had not pitched in the Park League in the last couple of decades, and his most recent playoff win had come 26 years ago.