Life as a Linebacker: Michael Clay
A Special Article from our Friends at the Publication MIGHTY OREGON
Michael Clay, #46, 5-11, 225 Linebacker
Michael Clay is one of those rare players that come out of high school and make an impact as a college freshman. It was not real surprising considering his resume in high school at Bellermine College Prep in San Jose, California: Clay was rated the No. 4 linebacker in California by Superprep Magazine and was honored as the West Catholic League Linebacker of the Year in 2008 with 81 tackles, seven sacks and four picks. He was a 2008 GoldenState Preps all-Northern California first-team honoree on defense on his team that went 12-1 in his senior season, with a 21-0 shutout victory against Valley Christian in the Central Coast Section Championship game.
Michael has remained relatively injury-free during his four years, so he has not needed to use a redshirt year. In 2009 Clay was one of the Ducks’ three true freshmen to experience game action, and at the end of the year received was the Len Casanova Award as the first year player who best exemplifies ideals of competitiveness, team inspiration and outstanding performance. He is probably best remembered in his sophomore year running 64 yards on a fake punt against Oregon State. Michael also made four solo tackles in the BCS Championship vs. Auburn.
Last season Clay was the Ducks’ second-leading tackler overall with 102 stops (54 solo) and was ranked second in Pac-12 in tackles per game at 8.9. He was outstanding in the Rose Bowl versus Wisconsin. Clay made a career-high 13 tackles, including 2 tackles for a loss of four yards and recovered a fumble that sealed the win. Michael was named to the nation’s preseason watch list for the Lombardi Award (lineman or linebacker). Michael has both size and speed: he finished the shuttle in 3.96 seconds to lead all linebackers during winter conditioning, and also finished second in the “L run” (7.02) and the electronic 20-yard dash (2.86).
Q and A with Clay:
MO: What was your first love in sports?
MC: Soccer. I still love playing soccer.
MO: What got you into football?
MC: My dad. My mom got me into soccer, and my dad got me into football. And when my body started to change about seventh and eighth grade, that’s when I started focusing more on football.
MO: Whose hearts did you break coming to Oregon?
MC: Colorado, they were big on me… Fresno State and Cal.
MO: Why are you glad you came here?
MC: I think Cal was too close to home (San Jose). You know, I could have had my parents come up and checking on me unexpectedly (chuckles). Colorado, I loved Colorado, it was a great visit, but it was a little too far away. Fresno State …I had a sense Pat Hill might be leaving when I would have been there, so I made the right decision coming to Oregon.
MO: What was it that really attracted you to Oregon?
MC: Oh, definitely the players. When I came here my host was Josh Kaddu, Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger. I just had a great time when I visited here.
MO: I heard you caught on to the defense pretty quickly…is it pretty complicated?
MC: Very complicated. I think any defense you go into from high school is very complicated, but I put the time in to think about the defense, and put it into my mind. So, I think that helped me a lot, especially my freshman year to get some playing time.
MO: How did you come in so well-prepared to play defense?
MC: Just the study habits, as my dad has been a high school coach for close to 20 years. He showed me all the study habits, what to expect. The older guys: Spencer Paysinger, Casey Matthews…they just helped me through the whole thing.
MO: What kind of hit do you like to put on…the running back, quarterback, or does it matter?
MC: Anything that moves pretty much. That’s a good hit for me. Especially on the sidelines… you get to go full out, and you’ve got the sideline to help you, so you go full out there. It’s different than open field tackles.
MO: How much stronger are you now than when you first came in?
MC: I put on a lot more weight. My freshman year I was like 207 halfway through the season, and now I’m staying between 223 and 225. James (Harris) has done a great job nutrition-wise, and coach Rad (Jim Radcliffe) strength-wise.
MO: You’re at the line of scrimmage: what are you thinking and what are you looking for?
MC: Who’s going to block me? You always want to find out who is going to block you to make plays. Once you’ve figured that out, the game goes by so much slower, and you make more plays than anyone else. So, definitely who’s going to block you and what are the tendencies of the other team, so you want to go down to the line of scrimmage with that mindset.
MO: So, you watch lots of video?
MC: Definitely film helps out a lot. You learn from all of that. You find tendencies …guards leaning; tackles are up high when it’s a pass.
MO: I imagine your time as a Duck has gone quickly. How’s the journey been?
MC: It’s gone by too fast. I’ve made great friends: Boseko Lokombo, Taylor Hart, Ryan Hagen, and Jackson Rice. I’ve just made relationships that I’ll carry on for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it went by super fast, unfortunately. I had a great time here.
MO: What game is your personal highlight so far?
MC: Definitely the Rose Bowl (2012). The atmosphere…we finally won a BCS Game, and being able to be a part of it with a fumble recovery when John Boyett stripped it out, and making a couple of big tackles. That was definitely the biggest thing.
MO: How has the year been for you and the team?
MC: We have a great cohesiveness on the team…especially on the defensive side. We’ve all been in the program for at least three years, so we all know what to expect, and we all hold each other to a high standard on the defense–and we kind of feed off of that in practice and in games.
MO: Did your parents come up and watch the games?
MC: My dad (Rodney) for the most part comes to all the games. My mom (Sandra) comes to the California games and last game of the year. They try to make it to as many games as possible.
MO: What’s the future hold after college?
MC: Hopefully the NFL. If not, I’d like to go back down to the Bay Area and be a high school counselor, any job that comes my way that seems intriguing…I’ll jump at it.
MO: Is there anything about you, your interests that Duck fans might not know about?
MC: I’m a big golfer now. Jackson Rice and John Boyett and I try to go golfing as much as possible. So, with Sundays off, I like to play nine holes to clear my mind and have fun with the guys. (Clay says his approach is the best part of his golf game. He can drive up to 300 yards, but he says he has a terrible slice).
Linebacker coach Don Pellum on Clay:
MO: What kind of strides has Michael made from his freshman year until his final season?
DP: From his freshman year ’til now, Michael has made some strides, but not unbelievable strides because Michael came in pretty sharp. The thing he has done is he has taken his knowledge to another level, but that’s just knowing our defense more. He came in with the right thought progression of how to process information. So, things have really come easy to him, where with some players it’s a little more difficult. And now the evidence on the field is when you watch Michael play. Not only is he directing and commanding his side of the defense, he’s commanding the entire defense. You’ll see Michael communicating with the secondary, and doing a lot of things that are advanced, processing information and communicating in a short amount of time. He’s pretty special in that regard.
MO: When did Michael arrive, so to speak?
DP: Michael picked it up from day one. When you deal with a young man who has played for four years, you’re dealing with a player with special intellect, and that’s the difficult thing for young players to deal with coming in from high school, and that transition is the intellectual part. And Michael demonstrated at that time that he had that ability. When you have a true freshman linebacker come out and win the long-snapping job, that’s like one of the most critical position on the team. You don’t do your job and you get a punt blocked. That demonstrated what type of player and competitor he was way back then. Since then the defense has changed, but everything we’ve done, he’s been right on step. It’s very easy to coach him, because you say it one time and he can visualize it in his mind, and he can go tell the other players about that quick, here’s what we’re doing. So, it’s a pretty special, unique gift.
MO: Is there a game or play that may symbolically represent what kind of player Michael is?
DP: Three or four years ago against Purdue, we had three backers go down with injuries, so Michael as a freshman was starting as long snapper, so we didn’t have him playing defense much. So, by attrition he was put into the game, and ended up playing 46 snaps. There’s a play that I still don’t know how Michael got to the far sideline and deflected the ball on the opposite sideline when he was supposed to be on our sideline. I still don’t know how he did that (chuckles).
More than anything we get excited about his communication. There are plays where there’s a complicated scheme by the offense with pick routes and different things and Michael, you can see him pulling that thing together and getting everyone on the same page in a short amount of time…in a matter of seconds. And those are the things that really stick out to me…to be able to process things.
MO: How do you compare him with other linebackers you’ve coached?
DP: He’s going to rank up there intellectually with the Kevin Mitchell guys and the Kevin Mitchell-warrior type of guys. When this things all said and done, at my time at Oregon, if he’s not in the top 5 or 6 guys, there’s going to be a whole lot of unbelievable guys coming out of here which would be a good thing. But he’s going to rank really, really high…maybe the best.
Mighty Oregon Reporter Dusty Ritter has been a Duck fan since he was ten years old, and started writing at a local newspaper when he was only fifteen. His favorite Duck football moment was in 2003 vs. Cal when the lights went out at Autzen stadium with Oregon behind, but the Ducks beat Aaron Rodgers and crew in a dramatic comeback fashion. Now, age 21, he attends Oregon games and plans on studying journalism at the U of O.
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