Landing with the Orange — arguably college football's most storied program in the East — is a bit like the gridiron gods saying, "We're sorry we can't approve you for this Mercedes, Mr. Cleveland ... but we do have a Ferrari we'd like you to take a look at."
"I told (Syracuse) they were my first choice if I didn't get into an Ivy," Cleveland recalled. "I'm not a full scholarship guy, so I had to wait to get in (to Syracuse), but the football program supported it and I got accepted."
To get a sense of the type of player Cleveland is, picture a dazed Cape Ann League defender wondering what the license plate number was on the locomotive that just hit them before T.C Manetta, Evan Bunker or Chris Splinter scampered to the end zone.
The freight train was usually Masco's No. 26 — Cleveland, at his natural position of fullback. It's the place he's always felt most comfortable and a craft he refined in the fall at Phillips.
"From an athletic standpoint, the competition is stronger. Football was very different. It's not the Friday night lights atmosphere, but the opposition is tougher and more physical," Cleveland, who also plays lacrosse at Phillips, said of the prep school level of football.
A gym rat, Cleveland still works out at Mike Boyle's Strength and Conditioning in North Andover. His high school resume speaks for itself: He helped lead Masco to three CAL titles, was a Salem News, Agganis and Shiners all-star as a senior and scored 19 career TDs.
As versatile as he is bruising, Cleveland's signature moment came when he caught a TD pass on 4th-and-19 to beat Wilmington in 2006. He was able to build on all those skills at Phillips.