In his senior year of high school, Kalvin Cline traded his high tops on the hardwood for cleats on the gridiron.
Now a freshman tight end at Virginia Tech, Cline is utilizing the same skill set he once used to beat defenders to the basket to run crisp routes and find the open field.
“Jumping, foot speed, it kind of transferred over which was a big advantage,” Cline said. “That really helped me out. Running routes kind of transferred over great from basketball.”
Recruited to play basketball at mid-majors like Richmond, Tulane and San Francisco, Cline had no interest in spending his collegiate years at a small school, so he switched sports — a decision that was years in the making.
“I still love (basketball), but football, I got a little itch for it,” Cline said. “I came out one year for football and I fell in love. It’s in my blood. My father played football; we were a football family at that point. Everything was going towards football.”
Cline’s father, Mike, played college ball at Arkansas State before playing professionally for the Green Bay Packers.
Shortly after Cline took the field for the first time at Pine Crest High School in Boca Raton, Fla., new Hokies offensive line coach Jeff Grimes was tipped off about a tight end that was flying under the proverbial recruiting radar. He watched film on the 6-foot-4 high school senior and passed the message along to tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring.
“I said, ‘Excuse me?’,” Stinespring recalled, referring to when Grimes said he was interested in a recruit named Kalvin Cline.
“But really I said ‘OK, great. This ought to be really good. Can’t wait to see this.’”
Cline, still not interested in attending a smaller universities — even for football — was prepared to pass up offers from Buffalo, South Florida and Western Kentucky to walk-on at the University of Miami.
“I let all the mid-majors go,” he said. “I was like ‘If I’m going to do a walk-on situation, I’ll do somewhere close.’ (I would) stay at home.”
When Stinespring and Tech expressed interest in him however, it wasn’t much of a decision.
“I love (Scot) Loeffler’s offense,” he said. “His pro-style, the way he uses his tight ends, it fits me perfect. So I came here, and I’m just making the best out of it.”
Regardless of how much he enjoyed Loefller’s offense, he thought he would have to wait to gain playing time.
Before junior tight end Ryan Malleck tore his left labrum this August — an injury that required season-ending surgery — he figured to be a major part of Loeffler’s new offensive scheme.
It wouldn’t take long for Cline to make the most of the door Malleck left open. After not making the dress squad for Tech’s season opener against Alabama, he made his collegiate debut against Western Carolina last Saturday.
“It was a little bit of a surprise. Last week against Alabama I was watching the game in my dorm, and a couple days after that (the coaches) are telling me I’m going to get a couple reps in practice and see how I do. Then they came to me two days before the game saying ‘Second series of the game, you’re going to get in there.’
“I played in front of probably 100 people in high school, and then coming out here and playing in front of 60,000, it’s a little different,” Cline said. “After that first or second rep it’s just another game. You’re focused, thinking about your assignments and just going from there trying to make the best out of it.”
Cline caught four passes for 46 yards, and in doing so, became a viable target for quarterback Logan Thomas.
“I kind of expected him to do very well,” Thomas, who nicknamed Cline ‘122’ for his locker number, said. “We kind of had a limited playbook for him for when he was going to be in, and he handled it very well. I’m glad to see where he progresses to.”
And it’s not only Cline’s quarterback that is taking a liking to his abilities.
“He’s athletic,” Beamer said, listing Cline’s most attractive on-field qualities. “Number two, he’s smart. We threw him out there last week. Offensively we move around a lot — shift, motion — a lot of stuff going on, and he didn’t miss much.”
Unfortunately, his biggest play on Saturday was the one he didn’t make.
On a first and 10 in the fourth quarter, Cline stood alone in the end zone, facing Thomas, who was releasing what would be Cline's first collegiate touchdown reception.
“I was happy,” Cline said. “I was like ‘Oh, here it comes. First touchdown. First game.’”
It was then when the same ailment that had infected many Tech receivers a week ago in Georgia got to Cline: the drops. The ball bounced off his No. 93 jersey and dropped to the turf.
“Sometimes you get a little too excited,” he said. “I saw a defender coming this way, little distractions. That was just a rookie mistake and it won’t happen again.”
A play like that, however embarrassing, couldn’t have come at a better time for him. With the game already in hand, the moment turned into a motivator for the young freshman.
“I’m going to make sure to get back out there and nothing, nothing touches the ground. At all.”
Even after his breakout game, Cline — who caught 19 passes for 411 yards his senior year in high school — remains second on the depth chart, behind Duan Perez-Means. The former basketball star is a better pass catcher than Perez-Means, and therefore will be a more prominent name in the box scores moving forward.
According to Stinespring, Cline is “closer to the mold of Ryan,” so it only makes sense that the former tight end has taken the current one under his wing.
“Malleck, with his injury, he’s kind of putting his knowledge on me with the playbook and everything,” Cline said. “He knows my athleticism and I’m able to fill that role. Lot of routes running, that’s kind of the offense I came from in high school, and transitioning from basketball I have a lot of speed and quickness and it kind of translates over perfectly for this offense.”
Now, while he is building muscle and learning the rest of the playbook, Cline is helping the team any way he can.
“I come in, if they need me to block, if they need me to run routes, I do what they tell me and just try and make the most out of my reps.”