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July 18, 2005

Cleveland rocks

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Tattooed Old English style on the back of James Cleveland's calves are the letters J and C. The letters represent his name and the style represents a certain classiness that you don't see with many of today's inked up players.

After a dominating performance at this weekend's Fox Sports Southwest Texas 7-on-7 State Tournament, Cleveland, the outstanding receiver from Baytown Lee, might need to find room somewhere else back there for a few more letters - MVP.

Cleveland broke defenders ankles all weekend long, helping Baytown Lee become the first team to capture a second 7-on-7 tournament championship in the event's eight-year history. He had three touchdown receptions in the Ganders' 51-34 victory over Bay City in the championship game and was named the tournament's most valuable player.

"Seven-on-seven football gives us as a team a chance to gel and it gives me a chance to shine individually," Cleveland said. "It's like I can't do what I do in 7-on-7 in the season. In this game, it allows a guy like me to be showcased."

Cleveland was showcased time after time in Lee's run to the championship. Displaying an awesome arsenal of endless routes, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound receiver ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 49 player in the state could not be stopped.

Crossing route, check.

Out route, check.

Fly route, check.

You name it, Cleveland could do it and he was almost unstoppable on two different routes the entire tournament - the swirl route when he cuts back outside after a hard cut toward the inside and his favorite corner route.

"I love the corner because you can fake to the inside head and then take them outside and it's a jump ball possibly or over the shoulder and you can burn them," Cleveland said.

"My strength is my hands. I catch the ball, and I try to use my hands on every play. I try not to use my body - it happens some times - but I try not to use it. I also love my routes. I like the way that I run routes."

As the main focus in Lee's high profile passing attack, Cleveland is also being heavily recruited. But for one reason or another his name isn't often mentioned as much when talking about the truly elite receivers in the state.

But it should be. Cleveland proved all weekend long that he's on par with all of the other elite receivers not just in Texas but throughout the entire Heartland.

"I know other guys might get more attention from the media and from some of the college coaches," he said. "But I'm fixing to change all that. Before we're done here this season, I think a lot of people are going to know a lot more about Baytown Lee and about me personally."

At this point, Cleveland calls Iowa his top team. The Hawkeyes have under center former Gander star Drew Tate - the quarterback that led Lee to its first 7-on-7 championship in 2001 - but Cleveland said he also likes Iowa for a number of other reasons than his former quarterback.

"I like Iowa, not just because of Drew," Cleveland said. "I went up to camp about a month ago, and they have a wonderful facility there. They have first-rate coaches, and I learn a lot in just three days. They taught me what I need to know to help me get to that next level.

"Coach (Carl) Jackson is the main guy recruiting me up there. He's a lot like mentor, and older guy. He'll teach you and talk to you about anything. He reminds me a lot of my coach (Dick) Olin."

Yet don't count on Cleveland making a decision any time soon. He said he's still holding out for few more national powers to offer him a scholarship. Florida and LSU were two teams he mentioned he'd be extremely excited about getting an offer from. So it looks like he is going to wait it out a little bit longer before he makes college choice.

Besides, he's another thing he needs to get done first - like heading over to the local tattoo parlor in Baytown to get some new war paint.

"I like the sound of that," Cleveland said. "MVP would look really nice on me."


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