Aug. 30, 2008
Corner Clayton Back One More Time
Brandon Clayton's 2007 playoff run ended as quickly as it had begun.
Seven minutes before halftime, and three plays after Aldwin Foster-Rettig's 89-yard interception return gave Northwest a 28-7 lead against West Texas A&M, Clayton stepped in front of a Keith Null pass and raced 29 yards to send the Bearcat faithful into another frenzy. It was his second interception of the season.
After reaching the sidelines during his return, and while trying to avoid an oncoming West Texas A&M player, Clayton felt a pain in his leg - it was his ACL.
It must have been déjà vu for the 180-pound junior from St. Louis. He lost the second half of his senior year at Hazelwood Central High School with a broken kneecap in his right leg. He recovered and started the first six games as a redshirt freshman during Northwest's 2005 season.
But in that sixth game, Clayton tore the ACL in his left leg during an interception return - the first pick of his collegiate career. He missed the remainder of the season.
Clayton fought back from his injury and earned All-MIAA honors the following year as a sophomore. He was the only defensive back to start all 15 games for Northwest in 2006.
Clayton was making his 26th consecutive start when he hurt his left leg again against West Texas. He bravely fought through the pain and was hopeful to see the field against Valdosta State in the championship game. He tested the knee during a team practice in Florence, Ala., but one last tweak ended his comeback bid. A tearful Clayton could only watch and listen as Coach Mel Tjeerdsma praised his efforts and used them to inspire his players during a speech to conclude the practice.
Eight months later, Clayton's back for one more season. Halfway through fall practices, he and his legs are ready to go.
"I was actually running on it before summer started," said Clayton. "I was playing 7-on-7 drills in July and cutting on it just fine. I got full clearance right before camp and haven't had any problems."
Northwest Head Athletic Trainer Kelly Quinlin, who performed miracle work on wide receiver Abe Qaoud's burn injuries a year ago, and her husband, Joe, a former Northwest linebacker and the new strength and conditioning coach for the Bearcats, focused their efforts on Clayton.
"Kelly and Joe kept me focused and really gave me a boost confidence wise," said Clayton. "I couldn't play football in the spring, but I did an internship with Joe and he helped me with my strength and conditioning."
Clayton's effort didn't go unnoticed with coaches or his teammates. He was voted team captain for his senior season, and after being nominated by Tjeerdsma, was one of two Northwest student-athletes selected to attend an NCAA national leadership conference at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla. It was the highlight of the summer for Clayton.
"This is the first year they've opened the conference to student-athletes outside of Division I," said Clayton. "I stayed at one of the Disney resorts and spent three days having fun talking with numerous student-athletes from across the country."
"Brandon's an athlete I knew would take it seriously and would get out of it as much as he could," said Tjeerdsma. "He had a great time, brought back ideas and made it a truly valuable experience."
The secondary figures to be the strongest part of the Bearcats' defense this season with three starters and plenty of depth and experience returning to the unit. Clayton will make his 33rd collegiate start tonight against Abilene Christian.
"You have to love Brandon's commitment and his desire to do the best he can," said Tjeerdsma. "It would have been easy for him last December to say you know what, I've been through this. I'm going to get my knee scoped, have my surgery and enjoy life. But that wasn't his desire at all. He's going to play another year and we're thrilled that he is and I think it's going to be a good one."
Rest assured all eyes will be focused on No. 9 after his first interception of the 2008 campaign. Don't be surprised if he simply takes a knee and hands the ball to the offense.
"I get all the jokes now from my teammates," said Clayton. "No more interceptions for me, they say. When I catch a pass they tell me to just go down, or pitch it or run out-of-bounds."
Here's to an interception…er…injury-free year for Mr. Clayton.
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