Following a redshirt year in 2006, the Opelika standout played little as a freshman, but had a breakout season as a sophomore when he had four and a half sacks and seven and a half tackles for a loss.
That appeared to set the tone for the 2009 year as the year the talented lineman would take his place among the best in the SEC. Instead injuries hampered him to the point where he only played in six games and made just seven total tackles. That disappointment has paved the way for hard work and determination for Clayton as he's prepared to go out with a bang in 2010.
"I think it could be a special senior season for all the seniors," Clayton says. "We have a lot of seniors this year. That will help out with the leadership. I think we have the potential to do big things.
"The injury last year was nagging and frustrating at times," Clayton adds. "I just had to overcome it. This year I hope will be injury free."
Staying healthy in the preseason has been a goal for the 6-3, 296 Clayton since the end of spring practice. Injury-prone the last two seasons after playing well as a redshirt freshman, Clayton has been determined to play his final year full speed and injury free. Because of that he said he's spent a lot of time before and after practice getting treatment to help make sure that he stays healthy.
"I have done a lot more rehab kind of stuff or prehab actually," Clayton points out. "I'm just trying to keep the joints and everything good to go. I have definitely focused a lot on staying healthy."
Something else that has helped Clayton and the rest of the defensive line stay fresh while also pushing them to be even better is the addition of a talented and deep freshman class. Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter have both played well in the preseason and that is what Clayton said they were hoping to see.
"That has helped out tremendously," Clayton says. "They have come along real quickly, which is what we needed them to do. They are learning new things every day."
Although he has started just one game in his career and played in 27, Clayton enters with a lot of experience and a ton of confidence following his strong preseason camp. As one of the leaders on the defense he said it was important for him to do all he could to win the starting job while showing his teammates they could count on him.
"It's really great to be the starter," Clayton says. "I'm just glad that I can help out in any way I can. It feels really good to finally be a starter."
Clayton's position coach, Tracy Rocker, is looking forward to seeing what the senior can do if he stays healthy all season. "Zach is a very talented guy who plays with a lot of intensity," Rocker says.