clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Gekko Chats: Q&A with Husky Great, Cam Cleeland

One of the legends who helped to build UW up as "Tight End U" stops by the Dawg Pound for a chat.

Husky legend and former NFL TE, Cam Cleeland
Husky legend and former NFL TE, Cam Cleeland
Cam Cleeland

At 6'4", 270 lbs, former Washington Tight End and all-time Husky great, Cameron Ross Cleeland is kind of a big deal.  Always has been.  Still is.  Cam was a legendary Washington state athlete coming out of Sedro-Wooley before finding his way to the University of Washington where he was part of Don James's final recruiting class in 1993.  By 1996, he had established himself as the top guy in the Tight End pecking order and was partnered with Brock Huard on a team that would go 9-3 and go down as one of the most efficient offenses in Husky history.  His size and versatility in both receiving and blocking had a lot to do with the success of that team.

Don James always liked his tight ends to be big and malleable so as to create opportunities for mismatches against opponents.  It turns out that NFL scouts like their tight ends the same way.  Upon graduation in 1998, Cam followed fellow Huskies like Mark Bruener, Aaron Pierce, Dave Williams and Ernie Conwell to the NFL.  He was drafted by Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints as a second round pick, the first TE selected that season.  Unfortunately, Cam's career was marred by an ugly hazing incident his rookie season in which he was hit in the face by a sock filled with coins causing an injury that he continues to cope with.  Nevertheless, his career spanned eight seasons where he racked up 131 career receptions and 13 touchdowns.

Today, Cam has relocated to Vancouver, WA where he and his wife are raising their three kids.  He's becoming more involved in the media and is trying to stay close to his passion of College Football.  You can follow his journey by following him on Twitter (@CamCleeland).  In fact, he recently shared his thoughts on last week's EWU game:

Here is my Q&A with Cam Cleeland.

Cam, thanks for giving us a little of your time for this chat.  I'm sure the first question on the minds of every Dawg fan is, "Hey Cam, what have you been up to?"

Cam Cleeland:  I've been pretty busy.  Since retirement I started a construction company, got involved in sales and fundraising and I created a Internet broadcasting Company for high school sports.  We made a lifestyle choice as a family and moved down to Vancouver this past spring.  Since then, I have been doing some local sports TV and radio broadcasting.

Sounds like you've been busy.  I know that for a lot of athletes one of the most challenging aspects of retirement is replacing the camaraderie and motivation that come from competing in a team setting. How have you filled that gap in your life since retiring from the NFL?

CC:  The thing you really miss the most for sure is always the camaraderie and the locker room atmosphere from the teammates. You sure don't miss the way your body feels after game day, but it's just being around the guys that is so important and fulfilling.  But my role as a family man is important.  I am a full-time dad with three kids under the age of nine. Two boys and a girl - I consider that zone defense as parents. My wife works full-time as a development and marketing director at a local Catholic high school so we divide our time and try to do the best with coaching our kids and local kid teams in the area.

The coaching carousel at UW has been in full effect since you graduated from the program. Many fans are hopeful that the arrival of Chris Petersen ends that carousel ride and puts the program back to a path of long term stability. Given this new era of college football, what are the biggest challenges that a guy like Chris Petersen has to overcome in order to rebuild a long-term winner the likes of what Don James built?

CC:   I think that one of the biggest challenges for Coach Peterson is the time it will take to implement his system and his style. Today's reality for players and football programs is instant gratification, not only for fans but also for alumni and everyone involved in the athletic department. Football isn't as much about hardnosed, grinding, old-school coaches like Coach James.  It now also includes the need to promote, to market, to build great facilities and to sell your program to these young athletes. It's very competitive in recruiting.  At UW, Coach Peterson now has the ability to attract top-quality the "five star" athletes that he couldn't at Boise State. Once he is able to bring in his type of player and teach them from day-one, you will see how well he does as a coach in managing players and the expectations for a big-time Pac12 school.

The first two games in the Chris Petersen era have not exactly started the way fans were hoping. What do you think is happening down on Montlake right now - is Coach Pete just tinkering with the toys in the closet, or is he in full rebuild mode? Do you think Husky fans should be worried about regressing from last year's 9-win season?

CC:  Anytime you install a new system both offensively and defensively coinciding with a whole new attitude and personality of a head coach, it is extremely difficult to have instant success. The program was rebuilding with good success under Sark, however his personality was the polar opposite of what you see now.  Getting guys to buy into that right away is going to be difficult. I didn't have expectations of blowout wins right away. I think Husky fans need to think realistically regarding the challenges Coach Peterson has had to face in the short term with this team. Losing two All-Americans and your starting quarterback is very difficult on offense not to mention putting in a brand-new defensive scheme.

When you consider the impact that you along with guys like Conwell, Pierce, Bruener, Seferian-Jenkins, and Stevens have had on Husky football, a lot of fans consider UW to be the true "Tight End U" of college football. Are there any tight ends on the roster that you feel have the potential to join that "Tight End U" club?

CC:  As of right now I don't see anyone on the roster that is potentially as dominating as ASJ was. However, that doesn't mean that the current players can't develop knowing the tradition of the tight end position and the demands that Coach Peterson has offensively for TEs. With the history of the great tight ends from Washington, it can be quite attractive for recruits in the future. But finding that great dominant player nowadays is hard, especially since the position has changed so much in the modern college football offenses.

You grew up in an era where Husky football was physical and intimidating. When you look at the current Husky roster, who do you consider to be the top one or two players who would have fit in perfectly for a Don James coached team?

CC:  Defensively, a few guys come to mind such as Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton, and John Timu.  They are all tough guys.  Hau'oli Kikaha could end up being the greatest pass rusher in Husky history. One thing that I remember as defining about the James era was specifically the way the offensive line was constructed.  Those o-linemen were nasty, big, physical and aggressive. I'm not saying that we don't have that right now, but I don't see that nastiness spread throughout the entire o-line depth chart like we used to see in those days.  The presence or lack of it affects the whole roster. I realize that the game has become more mechanical and method oriented and that safety rules have tamped down on the cultivation of it.  However it's still a mentality you need to teach and find in certain types of recruits if you really want to build a roster in the Don James mold.

Turning the conversation back to you, tell us a little bit about what is next on the horizon for you.

CC:  One of the biggest things and goals in life for me is to be a great dad and teach my kids how to be good leaders and good people. I want them to enjoy the opportunity to play sports and to learn how important it is to be disciplined in their school and home. As for myself, it's important to continue a good healthy lifestyle and maintain some physical activity so that my body does not fall apart. Getting old isn't great, however it's a lot harder nowadays to stay in shape so I'm even more motivated so that I can at least walk around and play golf with my kids as I get older.

Career-wise, I am still searching to find that camaraderie in a career that you find in the locker room ... that desire never leaves you once you've experienced it at the highest level. Finding a career that gives you the same excitement and desire like sports did is difficult.  However I'm sure patience will help me in the future. As of right now just being a good dad and husband is priority number one, and trying to live each day better than the next.


I know that I speak for all Husky fans in wishing Cam the absolute best of luck in this next stage of his life.  I'd also like to thank him for stopping by the Dawg Pound and sharing some insights into  his life and thoughts on the state of the Huskies.

Do not forget to five Cam a follow on Twitter (@CamCleeland) and to leave some comments or feedback below.