Big Ben Cleveland gets back on track
It takes a big man to own up to mistakes he has made in the past.
And that describes Georgia offensive lineman Ben Cleveland, in more ways than one.
Cleveland, you will recall, missed the Sugar Bowl due to academic reasons. But instead of sulking and blaming someone else, the former Stephens County standout made a change.
“One of the things I look back on is I wish I would have taken academics a little more seriously. It’s definitely not a situation I want to put myself in again,” Cleveland said. “So, I buckled down in the classroom, passed 18 hours in the spring, and passed 12 hours (in the summer). It was one of those hard-learned lessons that I had to learn, that I’ve got to get it together to make sure that don’t happen again.”
Cleveland admitted the entire situation was embarrassing.
“I think my dad kind of shot that one and let the whole wide world know about that,” he said. “I still haven’t heard the end of that from coaches and everybody.”
Otherwise, Cleveland enters his final season as a Bulldog with few regrets.
With 16 career starts, Cleveland is the favorite to hold down the job at right guard beginning with the season-opener Sept. 26 at Arkansas
“Again, parts of me sometimes wish I had taken school a little more serious and stuff like that. Obviously, it has taken me so long to get a degree. I should have had that a couple of years ago,” Cleveland said. “But the relationships and stuff that have been built—they will never be able to be replaced just with these guys from here. I appreciate all these coaches and everything that they have done for [me] the last five years."
As the only scholarship senior on the offensive line, Cleveland said he has been impressed with what he is seen so far.
Although not having spring ball hurt, he feels this year’s projected line is starting to gel.
“I’m definitely very pleasantly surprised where we’ve ended up so far. It was kind of difficult not having a spring ball, and stuff like that,” Cleveland said. “It put a lot of stress on all of us to learn this new offense and pick up on everything in a lot shorter amount of time than what we would normally have. I think our guys have handled it extremely well. We have been progressing every single day. I think we’re way ahead of where most people think we should be.”
Cleveland believes the Bulldogs will be fine at the one position where the competition seems the fiercest: right tackle. That is where Owen Condon, Warren McClendon and Tate Ratledge are competing for the starting job.
“It’s been good. Owen is an extremely smart player, a good, physical player. There’s some things he don’t know, there’s some things I don’t know, but we mesh well so we’re able to have that good relationship where it’s I’ll pick you up, you pick me up,” Cleveland said. “He’s definitely been holding his own. He’s been making good improvements, so I hope to be seeing some good things out of him.”
Cleveland has the same high hopes for the offense as well under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball to throw the ball, and you have to be able to throw the ball to run the ball. That has kind of been our philosophy since I’ve been here—do what we can in the run game, throw when we need to and run it when we need to and all of that,” he said. “I feel like that has served us pretty well over the last few years, so I definitely think there is a happy medium and a good balance among that. I think we’re doing everything we can to balance that out and get us the best options.”