Name: Asante Cleveland
NFL games played: 14
Games played for the Chargers: 4
Fun fact: Cleveland has more reason to hate Christmas than most - Bill Belichick and the Patriots once cut him on Christmas Day whilst he was sitting down to eat with his teammates.
Asante Cleveland is one of those people with athletics in his DNA. His father might have been a prison officer, but before that, Allen Cleveland was an NFL DE who was a part of the 1977 Super Bowl Winning Dallas Cowboys. His mother might not have had a sporting career but does hold a highly respectable job, as Javetta Cleveland is currently the Deputy Superintendent of the Berkley (California) School District.
Cleveland definitely inherited that love - and talent - for sports from his father, however. He played soccer for eight years before falling in love with football and had offers from his High School coaches to turn him into a baseball pitcher. Even now, other sports consume a big part of his life - while he's focused solely on football, two of his biggest hobbies are bowling and bow-fishing. So much sport, however, means he doesn't exactly have a lot of time to practice his cooking:
First time using my oven in my new apartment, started a small fire #domestic— Asante Cleveland (@clevelandshow82) October 27, 2015
Whenever I cook I just imagine how disappointed Chef Gordon Ramsey would be in me— Asante Cleveland (@clevelandshow82) October 9, 2014
Cleveland becomes the first player on this list to have ever actually appeared in a meaningful NFL game. He started his career with the San Francisco 49ers after going undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft and was active for 6 NFL games in his rookie season whilst splitting time between the Practice Squad and the main roster. However, the 49ers decided he wasn't in their plans and traded him with OL Jordan Devey, who's currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the MyPlayer mode in 2k15 your character goes undrafted...really???? Lol I can't even get drafted in a video game?? #twiceinoneyear— Asante Cleveland (@clevelandshow82) October 7, 2014
That trade sent him to the New England Patriots, and in his four games there Cleveland managed to record his only NFL catch to date - for one yard. Baby steps. Unfortunately, his Patriots career ended in possibly the most awkward way possible. According to Cleveland in this interview with the SD Union-Tribune, he was at the dinner table with teammates when he got a phone call from an unrecognized number. When he told his teammates what the call was about, the mood at the table "visibly shifted."
I can't even begin to comprehend how embarrassing that moment would have been for Cleveland, who suddenly had his livelihood stripped away from him in the open. He's no longer an NFL player or a New England Patriot. He's just Asante Cleveland - unemployed. Not good enough to hold onto his dream job, but stuck in a roomful of people who are. People who are better than him. People who are now living out Cleveland's dream whilst his has been shattered.
Cleveland found a way to make the best of it, though, and cracked open a beer. After all, his schedule had suddenly cleared up. He didn't have work the next day anymore. "Phone off on Christmas... is going to be the new rule I go with for the rest of my life," laughed Cleveland. It's a good thing he kept his phone on, though - the Chargers claimed him off waivers as soon as possible, and he's been with the franchise ever since, both on the Practice Squad and the active roster.
Cleveland is well built for an NFL TE, at 6'5 and 260 lbs, but he doesn't have the athleticism teams covet, running just a 4.88 40 yard dash at his Pro Day. If he does stick in the NFL, it certainly won't be for his receiving - even whilst at Miami he was used almost exclusively as a blocker, ending his career with just 14 receptions for 151 yards and 1 TD during his four-year, 40-game career there. Keenan Allen had 15 catches for 166 yards in the 2015 season opener against the Lions.
He's a good blocker, but being such a one-dimensional TE doesn't bode well for his chances of lasting in the NFL. Whether he's aware of that or not, Cleveland has made a real attempt to help bolster his CV in preparation for a career outside of football. In the 2015 offseason, he interned with the San Francisco 49ers marketing department, and learned skills such as graphic design and stadium sales, as well as sitting in on the marketing department's meetings in preparation for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Cleveland (who has a degree in Business from the University of Miami) continued to look to build his CV, spending part of the 2016 offseason doing a three-week internship with Comcast Sportsnet as part of an NFLPA program designed to help athletes transition to a life after football. Over the three weeks, he gained experience covering the Washington Wizards in the NBA, Washington Capitals in the NHL and the University of Maryland's men's basketball team.
Cleveland was one of the youngest athletes that took part in the scheme, and I find his attitude towards life really admirable. He's an athlete living the childhood dream of many, but he's eager to further his skills in his own spare time. When lots of his teammates and friends are on holiday and partying, Cleveland is working hard to make the most of his career after football. That's a level of self-awareness and dedication that's extremely rare, and it's given me a whole lot of respect for Cleveland.
Cleveland's belief that you need to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you in life was re-affirmed on November 20th, 2016. Cleveland was crossing a street in San Diego, on his way to eat dinner when a car ignored Cleveland and carried on speeding towards him. Cleveland's instinct took over.
"Luckily, I jumped into the car because football has taught me that if something’s coming at your knees, make sure your feet aren’t on the ground because that’ll be a knee injury."
I don't want to speculate, but that instinct might have saved Cleveland from injuries that were a lot more severe. As it was, he was able to walk away with 'only' a concussion and a hurt knee. The driver didn't stop to check on the TE. He didn't care. By the time Cleveland was able to look up, the driver had disappeared into the night. He never re-appeared. It wasn't just Cleveland who escaped that night. The driver's carelessness could have cost Cleveland his life and the driver his freedom. Neither happened. One of them deserved to.
The driver left Cleveland there. Physically bruised. Mentally hurt.
Down but not out.
Just like when he went undrafted. Just like when he was cut on Christmas. Weaker, less able men would have stayed down for good. But, like so many times in his life, Cleveland bounced back up. He wasn't going anywhere.
Not until he finishes what he's set out to accomplish.