"He is playing defensive end for us and has just had an outstanding first five ball games for us," McCracken tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "People are basically trying to run away from him. He runs a 4.8 (40) so he can chase people down from the backside. He has just been outstanding."
Clayton a 6-3, 257-pounder, is playing his first season of football for Opelika High after starting as sophomore and junior at Auburn High. He transferred in mid-term as a junior and won the state shot put and discus titles for the Bulldogs last spring.
"He is a very good pass rusher," says McCracken, who notes that Clayton is good at knocking down passes. "He is going to be an outstanding player at Auburn."
Three of McCracken's former players, noseguard Tommy Jackson, safety Will Herring and walk-on holder Matthew Motley, are currently starting for the Tigers and sophomore Tez Doolittle has seen significant action this season backing up Jackson.
McCracken says that Clayton has lots of potential. "He was a little raw when we got him, but we coached him up good. He got to go through three or four days of spring practice for us and then he ran track and won two state championships for us in the shot and discus.
"As far as having him as a football player, the more fundamentals he gets the better. I know that he is going to be outstanding in years to come."
Clayton is shown taking a break during an Opelika High victory this season for the 5-0 Bulldogs, one of the state's top 6A teams.
McCracken says he and the other football coaches at Opelika High have been speculating for some time on whether or not Clayton will be a defensive end or a defensive tackle in college.
"He weighs about 257 right now," McCracken says. "He has been in our weight program for four months. When he came to Opelika, he weighed 231 so he has gained 26 pounds. At one time he was 266 during the spring, but with all of the running we are doing now he is has stabilized at 257. I can see him at around 275 or 280 in college, especially if he gets any taller."
The Opelika coach says that Clayton's main position at OHS is end, but at times he lines up inside like a defensive tackle against certain offensive formations.
"Zach is one of those Tommy Jackson and Will Herring type of kids," says McCracken, who played college football for Auburn head coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan. "He always has a smile on his face. He has a great attitude toward everything. He always has great work habits and his little brother is the same way, too. Jerry (his father) and his wife are to be commended for raising two great children like that. He never misses school. He makes great grades. He is a friend to everybody. He is a very positive person.
"When he gets on the field he is a fundamentally sound football player and he is very coachable," McCracken adds. "He takes coaching well and criticism very well, which is something we have hardly had to do with him.
"When people start looking at kids and think kids are not like they used to be, they need to start looking at Zach Clayton because he is a model citizen. This kid is humble and he is as good a kid as I have ever coached and I have coached some good ones. He is kind of like Larry Ware was when I coached Larry (at Lee in Montgomery.)"
Clayton is AU's 12th public verbal commitment.