, Salem, MA


July 15, 2009

Cleveland Rocks: Masco star's brute strength, soft hands a unique combination

Just about everything about the look of recent Masconomet grad Clay Cleveland oozes "football player."

A hulking fullback chiseled at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, the imposing Cleveland's three-point stance looks like it was plucked from the golden age of Nebraska's power running game. In short, the Chieftains captain appears to have been born to bowl over offensive guards and linebackers.

Yet the signature moment of Cleveland's high school career was a fingertip touchdown catch that helped Masco beat Wilmington for the first of three straight Cape Ann League crowns in 2006. His official college scouting highlight reel is full of crisp passing patterns and the kinds of soft and smooth receptions normally reserved for those with the lanky, track star build.

Such is the dual identity of Cleveland, whose skills will be in display tonight at Manning Field in Lynn in the 48th annual Agganis Football Classic. He is one part bruiser, one part finesse and 100 percent football.

"I'm a fullback at heart. That's my favorite position," said Cleveland, who also played in the Shriner's all-star game last month. "It's kind of a dying breed. You don't see too many teams pounding the ball like old school Big Ten football."

There is little doubt that Cleveland would've been ideal for one of those smash mouth power teams from an era gone by. But he is no relic. His unique skills in the passing game fit perfectly along the bridge to college football future — one that seems destined to be filled by the spread offense and H-backs that are adept at blocking, running and catching.

"He's bigger than the guards and tackles on some teams we see," said Masco coach Jim Pugh. "This kid is a football player."

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