The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


During his sophomore season, junior cornerback Jason McCleod registered 56 tackles and recorded a team-high of nine pass breakups. 

Credit: Alec Druggan

Football has always been about family for junior defensive back Jason McCleod.

McCleod's football career at Penn began in his freshman year during the last game of the 2018 season. Since his first appearance, McCleod has continued to demonstrate his skills and technique as one of the Quakers' best defensive backs. He was one of the few sophomores to play in every game of the 2019 season, registering 56 tackles and recording a team-high nine pass breakups. 

In middle school, McCleod experimented with many sports, including track and field and basketball. But he always felt most connected to football and decided to make it his focus in high school. For McLeod, much of the appeal was his family’s connection to the game.

“I honestly fell in love with it,” McCleod said. “I grew up watching my dad watch the games and tell me all the stories about him and his high school football team. So I was like you know what, I need to do that. I want to have those same stories.” 

Initially, joining the Red and Blue was an adjustment for McCleod. However, over the last two years playing for the Quakers, he feels that he has become more conscious of his unique skills and how he fits into the team.

“Everyone was in the top at their high school,” McCleod said. “And now we’re trying to figure out who’s better and what your specific talent is. I think that it made me mature and actually step back and figure out what I have: what was my best asset and what I could bring to my team.”

McCleod has been honing his talent in man-coverage, developing his zone coverage skills, and focusing on his mindset during games.

“I feel like I have a dog mentality,” McCleod said. “I own the island. I’m not just going to let you come in and go out. You have to pay the toll. Understanding that and running that through my mind the whole game is what pushes me to succeed on the field.”

McCleod was initially drawn to Penn because of the football coaches he met, the vibrancy of Philadelphia, and because it was the closest Ivy League university to his home in Florida. He has since become closer to his biological cousins in Pennsylvania and found community within his teammates. 

“It’s a brotherhood,” McCleod said. “We definitely treat each other like a family. We have a lot in common and a lot of stories to share amongst each other. Being a part of Penn football has helped me to be more social and understand that everyone has different qualities.”

Defensive back Mohammed Diakite said that since their freshman year, McCleod has always brought energy and boosted morale both on and off the field.

“You’ll never have a bad time with Jason,” Diakite said. “He’ll always make you laugh, which I appreciate. But also having that guy, having that brother, on the team who I know is always gonna push me to be better and vice versa, is something that I value a lot too.”

Assistant coach Eric Franklin sees McCleod as a leader on the field. He said that McCleod plays a vital role on the squad’s defense as one of the Quaker’s best pass rushers and coverage players.

“The biggest thing is he’s a really confident player and really versatile,” Franklin said. “The younger guys, especially, look up to him. Being one of the most experienced guys in the room, he knows our defense inside and out, so he’s always the guy you can look to.” 

Being 5-foot-10 adds an extra challenge for McCleod because most of the receivers he defends are taller than him. But no matter how challenging the game gets, he always enjoys the competition.

“It’s just fun to be able to compete against the top, most athletic person on the field,” McCleod said. “I can release all of my stress or anything that went on in the week. I just take off my shoes, put on my cleats, and go win the game.”

Despite the disappointment of not having an in-person season, McCleod has taken advantage of the team’s Zoom calls to continue to improve his positional skills. He has also been working out and staying connected to his teammates. 

“For the team, one of my goals is to get closer during this pandemic,” McCleod said. “I don’t think we should be resting or taking a break. Although it is a forced break, we should still be working towards a goal, obviously the Ivy League title.” 

McCleod feels that he has successfully translated the teamwork skills he learned on the field into the workforce during his internships. After graduating, McCleod plans to join the Peace Corps and hopes to eventually work in a US Embassy. However, until then, McCleod will continue to bring his competitive personality with him to every game the Quakers play. 

“We can trust him,” Franklin said. “He’s going to show up every day and do his job. I think he has the ability to be an all-conference type of player for us. It's just making sure he continues to be consistent and making sure he continues to be successful.”

McCleod’s personal growth, impressive technique, and strong leadership have earned him respect and admiration among his teammates. He continues to be a standout player on the field and an indispensable part of the team’s dynamic.