OU football: Brennan Clay gets long-awaited chance to shine
Strip away the flashy, West Coast façade, and the man everybody knows as the third piece of OU’s “Cali Trio” is actually very down to earth.
Junior running back Brennan Clay had to quickly develop patience during his time with the Oklahoma football program after waiting nearly three and a half years for his big break.
After becoming the only high school player in California’s history to amass more than 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season (2008), Clay came to OU as a four- or five-star player, and many expected the San Diego native to make an immediate impact.
Instead, Clay spent most of his inaugural season in 2010 as a backup behind former standout DeMarco Murray while also seeing some action on kick returns.
But the real setback for Clay during his first season occurred against Florida State, when he had to leave the game after sustaining a concussion.
“I wasn’t the same after that,” Clay said.
Clay ended the season with just 127 net yards and no touchdowns. He also didn’t fair much better during his sophomore term, finishing with 274 rushing yards, 104 receiving yards and one touchdown (against Tulsa).
Although he returned as the starting running back for the first three games in 2011, he was outshined quickly by walk-on running back Dominique Whaley’s emergence.
When junior running back Damien Williams transferred from Arizona this offseason, Clay had yet another obstacle to overcome.
But though watching teammates take away minutes and playing opportunities was hard to stomach for Clay, he said he never lost sight of his overall goal: getting back on the field.
“I was patient because I knew (running back coach Cale) Gundy was putting the best players out on the field,” Clay said. “I knew I would get my opportunity, but I had to keep working in practice.”
His teammates noticed the tenacity he displayed during practice.
“Brennan is the type of kid that, regardless of what happens under the circumstances — if he is playing a lot or not playing — he comes to practice every day,” senior quarterback Landry Jones said. “When something good happens to those kind of people, you always want to cheer for them and get behind them.”
And Clay finally gave his teammates something to cheer about in last week’s game against Iowa State with his first career 100-yard game during his first start since September 2011.
Clay’s fifth career start came on the heels of an injured Williams and a Whaley that still isn’t up to par after last year’s season-ending ankle injury.
Whaley has had just 39 carries in the Sooners’ eight games, a far cry from his 113 touches and 627 yards he had by this time last year (even though coach Bob Stoops has said Whaley is back to his old self several times in the weekly press conferences).
But when Clay found out last week that he would get the starting nod against Iowa State, he said he knew this was the time to shine.
“I hadn’t really gotten an opportunity to show what I could do,” Clay said. “I just put my faith in the Lord that I could go out there and perform.”
Clay’s 157 rushing yards helped the Sooners reestablish the ground game to open up passing routes against ISU. Although OU typically relies on a passing attack featuring Jones’ veteran arm, the Sooners said they don’t want to be one-dimensional.
But just as important as the individual performance was to the win, having a player who has been contending for the starting role like Clay step up when the OU coaching staff needed him was equally valuable.
“I spend a lot of time talking to my guys about it: You have to learn your role on this team,” Gundy said. “This is the University of Oklahoma, and there’s not a lot of people that can play four years because we recruit a lot of good players.
“I think the biggest misconception is that if you come here and aren’t a four- or three-year starter, you didn’t have a good career. But that’s not true.”
And that’s the main reason Clay continued to buy into the Sooner program, even with the addition of starting running backs the past two seasons.
“I know I’m at a big-time program, and I take pride in perfecting my craft on the field,” Clay said. “I want to leave the legacy that I was a hard worker and came to play every day.”