As he puts on a Baltimore Ravens uniform for the very first time in this weekend's rookie minicamp, legendary tales of Ben "Big Country" Cleveland has followed him from the University of Georgia to his new NFL home. A third-round pick by the Ravens in the 2021 NFL Draft, Cleveland has already achieved a certain level of notoriety thanks to stories of his exploits growing up in the rural town of Toccoa, Georgia, where his adventures as an outdoorsman included hunting and eating squirrels.
Meeting with the media on Friday, Cleveland elaborated on the inclusion of squirrel meat into his diet, casually explaining how it fit into his overall eating habits.
"I don't know if it was a specific diet. It's moreso one of those things where you eat what you got in the freezer or from the Fall," said Cleveland. "I had a few squirrels freeze-dried in there. Get a little hungry, ain't got no deer meat left, fry you up a squirrel or two and just go eat that."
Speaking to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com, Cleveland shared that he mostly hunted deer, but also shot turkey, duck, and squirrel. One of Cleveland's most notable hunting stories came when he played hooky from school: He couldn't find anything to eat and did not want to wake up his grandparents, so he placed a .22 rifle through the window of his living room and shot two squirrels in a tree before cooking them with biscuits.
Although his country roots are plain to see, the way Cleveland maintains his hulking 6-foot-6, 357 pound physique is more sophisticated than it may seem at first glance. Cleveland shared that his diet and nutrition became important to him in college after being much less discerning with what he put in his body as a high school player.
"Heck, I can remember back in high school on Tuesday nights after practice we'd have Little Caesars pizzas, and I'd take two or three pizzas home and I'd sit down and eat two whole pizzas before I went to bed," said Cleveland. "So obviously, the dietitian part was not there in high school. But I got around some people with a little bit better knowledge of nutrition and fueling my body whenever I got into college.
"So I think probably sophomore year, something like that, is when I really started to take that seriously and put away the fast food, put away the fried foods and things like that, and tried to put better fuel in my body."
As a rookie, Cleveland projects to compete for a significant role within the interior of Baltimore's offensive line. Cleveland was a First-Team All-SEC selection at Georgia in 2020.