TAMPA — He's a beaming, ball-snagging portrait of irony.
Even as his team drifts closer to the nether region of the bowl landscape, USF receiver Stanley Clerveaux is in a really good place. In a year of swooning, he's smiling. The season is going to pieces, but for a change, Clerveaux isn't.
"Yeah man, it's awesome," he said recently.
Don't begrudge him. While a bright disposition amid a three-game skid may be bad optics, afford Clerveaux this contentment.
In recent years, the Miami native hasn't been able to enjoy much of anything, including the Bulls' resurgence. First came the physical setbacks, followed by tragedy. In his first four years on campus, Clerveaux caught three passes and zero breaks.
"On the field you couldn't see it, but outside of football you could see it," said fellow fifth-year receiver Ryeshene Bronson, Clerveaux's best friend on the team. "It was very hard for him."
Hence the reason Clerveaux could barely suppress his jubilation in the wake of USF's 57-36 loss at Houston. On one of the season's more dismal days, Clerveaux had a career-high five receptions for 62 yards.
On Friday, he headed to Philadelphia — where the Bulls (7-3, 3-3) face Temple this afternoon — with 16 receptions on the year.
"My dad called me the other day saying he saw me catch some balls and stuff," Clerveaux said a few days after the Houston defeat. "He was just happy that I was out there playing. I'm just trying to keep a smile on my daddy's face and stuff."
The previous years had been equally unkind to Serge Clerveaux, a father of nine who cooks at a downtown Miami hotel. Nov. 9 marked the one-year anniversary of his wife's death from stroke and blood-pressure complications. Marie France Cherry, the stepmom who began raising Stanley when he was 7, was only 56.
"Stanley cried for her many times," Serge said in a Haitian accent thicker than his renowned spaghetti sauce. "Stanley loved, loved, loved his stepmother."
Grief was preceded by grimacing, lots of it.
A three-star prospect out of North Miami High, Clerveaux arrived in Tampa in 2014 as a sleeper recruit brimming with physical upside (6-foot-3). But before his first midterm, he tore his left labrum, requiring surgery and a redshirt season.
He was flashing his potential the following preseason when adversity broke his route again. Clerveaux ran a slant pattern on the Bulls' synthetic-turf practice field, where cornerback Mazzi Wilkins landed on him at the end of the play. He arose with a torn left ACL.
"After my knee surgery, that first two weeks was just hard," Clerveaux recalled.
"I called my momma crying, I called my daddy crying, I didn't want to be here. I really just wanted to go home, and Coach T (Willie Taggart)…called me to his office and just said don't worry about it, just keep working hard and stuff. But yeah, it was tough."
The setbacks stifled his development, banishing him to the depth chart's basement as Taggart continued fortifying his receiving corps. In 2016, his first healthy season, Clerveaux finished with one catch.
The following year, he had two, both in an early-season romp of Illinois. By then, his stepmother was in hospice care.
"Stan went into a shell," Bronson said. "He wasn't playing, so he was just like, wondering why all this crazy stuff was going on."
Pep talks from Bronson arrived almost daily. Former Bulls return specialist Lindsey Lamar, a special assistant to Coach Charlie Strong, also reached out regularly.
As a result, the roster outcast evolved into an outlier of sorts, spurning the emotional tug of returning home and forging onward. In March, Clerveaux, who has added 30 pounds (to 226) since arriving at USF, learned the NCAA had granted him a sixth season of eligibility.
Then, he enjoyed a breakthrough spring camp, highlighted by a two-touchdown scrimmage.
A couple of months later, Clerveaux earned his criminology degree. He made his second career start in the season opener against Elon and had three catches, equaling his career total to that point.
He has started six more games since, following the five-reception effort at Houston with another career-best night (five catches, 50 yards) in the Bulls' 41-15 home loss to Tulane.
"He's kind of the old man of that group," Strong said.
"You look at him and it's nothing like, 'Wow, who is that guy out there?' But then he makes the catches. He does everything he's supposed to do, he can block. … Of all our receivers, he's probably been the most consistent."
And in an otherwise depressing season, the most content.
"It's amazing," Clerveaux said.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
USF vs. Temple, noon, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
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