EXCLUSIVE: Jay discusses decision

CLEMSON - More than a week after making what was nothing short of a life-changing decision, freshman offensive line J.K. Jay talks to CUTigers.com in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview.

We all have to make big decisions in life.

But freshman tackle J.K. Jay did not expect to be faced with such a tough one before he turned 20 years old.

After all, his football future seemed as bright as any young player on Clemson's 2009 roster. Rated a four-star prospect by Scout.com as one of the top offensive tackles in the country, he enrolled a semester early in hopes of securing significant playing time during his first year.

It wasn't just about playing the game, either. It was about playing it for Clemson.

"My dream wasn't just to play football, it was to play football here (Clemson)," Jay said. "I've never missed a home game and my Mom even came to games when she was pregnant with me. I always knew I would run down that hill and wear a paw on my helmet."

Everything, of course, seemed to be on track for that dream to be realized. Jay enrolled at Clemson a year ago and came out of spring practice listed as a co-starter at right tackle, something that rarely happens for a true freshman on the offensive line.

But a weight-lifting accident over the summer lead to two back surgeries during the fall and a redshirt year on the football field.

Jay visited with the surgeon who had operated on his back the Monday following Christmas and it was the result of that visit that led him to the decision he made just last week - to give up playing football.

But the decision didn't come without the consideration of mountains of information.

"The doctor told me that the 2010 season was definitely out but that he would clear me medically to play after that if all went as planned," Jay said. "He said that I would only get back to about 80 percent though and that if I got hurt again he didn't think my back could take another surgery. There was a real possibility of some major long term damage.

"It would have been a lot easier if he would have just told me I could never play again. It would have been a lot easier if it would have just been in black and white."

Talk about confusing. It wasn't like the doctor told him he had to quit playing. He had to make the decision himself based off what the doctor thought would happen.

"I prayed about it a lot. I know God has a plan for my life and that I will be at peace if I stay in His will. I just wanted to make the right decision," Jay said.

After a week of soul searching, he chose his long term future over his short term desires and walked away from his lifelong dream of playing football at Clemson University.

And truthfully, that was only the beginning of his decision-making process. There was this little thing of letting the coaching staff, not to mention the rest of the world know what was going on.

"I expect my back to feel better this time next year but it won't be because it's healed. It will be because I'm not playing football," Jay said. "Clemson has already done so much for me and I didn't want to feel like I was stringing them along only to make this same decision again next year. That wouldn't be fair to them." (Roy Philpott)
As you would expect, it was anything but easy. First he talked with his position coach- Brad Scott, then Dabo.

"I've known coach Scott for a long time through the recruiting process," he said. "I've had a lot of serious conversations with him and I've envisioned some of the conversations we may have in the future. But I never expected to have to sit down with him and tell him that I couldn't play. That was real hard."

To his surprise, the decision was then met with more support than he ever could have imagined.

"I was blown away with their reaction to all of this. They were awesome," Jay said. "The support (Dabo and the Clemson staff) that gave me and wisdom they shared just shows what kind of men they are. And I've been overwhelmed with the support that I've gotten from family, friends, and the Clemson fans too.

"It means a lot."

Knowing that there was still a slight possibility Jay could one day return to the football field, the coaching staff has offered to keep him on the 85 man scholarship roster so that he could at least have the option of playing again.

To the eternal optimists out there, it wouldn't be too far a stretch to suggest maybe he could play again one day based off of that information.

Not necessarily, Jay said.

"I expect my back to feel better this time next year but it won't be because it's healed. It will be because I'm not playing football," he said. "Clemson has already done so much for me and I didn't want to feel like I was stringing them along only to make this same decision again next year. That wouldn't be fair to them.

"I'm not happy about this and I'm more disappointed than anyone could know but I'm at peace with this decision. God has something bigger and better for me and just because this door has closed I know another one will open. This is part of His plan."

While the future is far from certain, Jay has done pretty well for himself to keep everything in perspective by focusing on what could be next.

That includes a number of possibilities as a student coach and also as a part of Clemson's new mentoring program - "Tigerhood."

"Clemson is family," Jay said. "The players are my brothers and this lets me stay part of the family. I'm really excited about the possibilities. It looks like I'm going to get to work with Jeff Davis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for The Judge (Davis). He's a great man.

"I wish I could play and I hope those guys realize how lucky they are to be able to play. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me at all but at the same time they need to realize that it could all be over in a second. Every athlete knows there is a chance of injury but I don't think any of us approach it like this play could be our last. You don't need to take the opportunity for granted."

After fully adjusting to his decision this semester, Jay is also contemplating a mission trip to Kenya this summer, something he feels led to do but wouldn't have been able to before his medical circumstances occurred.

"John Wooden said that things turn out for the best for people who make the best of the way things turn out," he said. "This hasn't turned out like I had planned, but like I said, 'God has a plan for my life and our plans aren't always His plans.' I'm leaving this all up to Him and I know that I will look back on this one day and know it changed my life for the better."

And knowing Jay, he probably won't have to wait too before he does exactly that.

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