Jan. 8, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- UW tailback John Clay showed that he had done his homework. Upon addressing his decision to forgo his final season of eligibility with the Badgers and enter the NFL draft, he showed his age, too.
Clay turned 23 on Tuesday. “At my age, that plays a factor,’’ he said. “As a running back, you’re not guaranteed that long in the ’league.’ I think the average is a little over three years in the NFL.’’
That was a focal point for Clay when he discussed his future with his mom and dad, Sara and John Clay, Sr. at their home in Racine. What would be best for him today? “I told them that I think I’m ready to start a new chapter in my life,’’ he said, “and I think the time is now.’’
Their response? “They told me whatever I wanted to do,’’ he said, “they were going to be in my corner supporting me, whether I wanted to come back to school or leave.’’
He added that everyone was on the same page after “I sat down with my whole family and talked about what was the best situation.’’
With everything on the table, Clay acknowledged that “my family had the most influence’’ on his decision. That included his sisters, Amelia and Ieshia. “I listened to what everybody had to say,’’ he said. “And I formed my own opinions from what they were telling me.’’
Others also had a say. Clay went through the NFL evaluation process that is available to all underclassmen. What was his impression of where he might be drafted? “Top three rounds,’’ he said. “I felt good when I heard that. And I had more confidence in making my decision.’’
Clay informed UW coach Bret Bielema of his intentions late Friday morning.
“Coach B said he didn’t want me to go, but he knew that I had to do what was best for me,’’ Clay related. “He told me that he was going to be in my corner too and, if I needed help with anything, all I had to do was give him a call.
“If I needed any direction in any kind of way, he said he would be there for me.’’
That was reassuring, Clay said.
What did Clay see as the strongest argument for returning to the Badgers? “Just being able to say that I played my senior year and I finished what I started by playing my whole career there,’’ he said, adding that he also thought “about having my parents on the field for senior day at Camp Randall.’’
Given his resume, Clay would have again been on everybody’s short list for the Heisman Trophy if he had come back. “I thought about it,’’ he said. “But it really didn’t play that big of a role in my decision after I got the evaluation from the NFL and I sat down with my family. I felt I did all I could as a player at the university and, to better myself, I thought I should take it to the next level.’’
Was money a factor in declaring for the draft? “No, it wasn’t,’’ he said. “I wasn’t a struggling college student. I had my parents supporting me and helping me. If I needed anything, all I had to do was make one phone call and they would help me as much as they could. So it wasn’t about financial need.’’
Once he made up his mind to leave, Clay shared the news with tailbacks Montee Ball and James White. Despite the competition for carries in the rotation, they have become very close as teammates. Whenever one scored, the other two were usually the first to greet him on the sidelines.
“We were texting back and forth all day,’’ Clay said. “I told them they have to keep the running back tradition going. And they’re more than capable to take on that load. They stepped up in big games and handled pressure situations. They know it comes with being a running back at Wisconsin.’’
On the UW’s final offensive possession of the Rose Bowl, Clay enhanced his legacy by powering for yardage between the tackles and punishing the TCU defensive backs who came up to stop him. It left a good taste in his mouth. “On those last couple of series,’’ he said, “I thought, ‘If I can do this in college – pushing myself to be the best player out there – hopefully I can do the same in the NFL.’’’
Does Clay believe that he still has something to prove to the pro scouts? “I have to show them that I’m capable and motivated to give them my all when I’m out there playing,’’ he said. “It’s just about being consistent in what I’m doing and making sure I can be that every-down back they need.’’
What about his conditioning? “I think losing weight would help me in the long run,’’ he said. “Especially because of the type of running back that I am – a big back who gets hit a lot and likes to run between the tackles. I know I’m going to have to get my body more firmed up, and more lean.’’
Clay isn’t sure where he will be train for the scouting combine. “That’s still up in the air,’’ he said. “I’m still talking with people (agents). I haven’t signed with anybody or verbally committed to anybody. I’m going through the process of finding someone who can represent me in a good way.’’
To get ready for the combine, Clay will not take classes this semester at Wisconsin. “But I promised my mother that before it’s all said and done I will have my college degree,’’ he stressed.
Has he considered the threat of a lockout? “I have thought about that a lot just because it’s a possibility,’’ he said. “But I made my decision, and it’s just something that I will have to deal with.’’
Overall, the decision-making process was challenging, he admitted. “As I told Coach B, it felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders after telling him my choice,’’ he said. “I feel very comfortable with the decision that I made, and I’m just ready to go to the next level.’’
Clay had off-season surgery on both ankles and said that he had not given any serious thought to leaving school after his sophomore year – his third year in the program -- because “I knew we’d have an explosive offense and I didn’t want to miss out on all the super things we could do.’’
Regarding the UW’s rich tradition of producing 1,000-yard rushers – including two this season, White and Clay (Ball fell four yards short) – Clay suggested that no other program in the country prepares tailbacks for the NFL better than the Badgers. He cited his own situation.
“Being able to sit down in film study with Coach (Paul) Chryst and Coach (John) Settle helped educate me,’’ Clay said of the UW’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach, respectively. “Right now, I want to focus on being the best ‘me’ that I can be.
“That’s something that Coach Chryst always talks about – about bringing the best ‘you’ to the game, and that’s what I want to do in the NFL.’’