Last season Mark Clayton emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the country and the go-to guy for Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Clayton's never-say-tackle style is now the standard way OU Head Coach Bob Stoops wants all of his wide receivers to fight for extra yardage.
Clayton has also emerged as one of the leaders on the Sooners team as nobody outworks Clayton during practice or the offseason. Heading into his senior season Clayton is regarded as a preseason All-American, and he recently he sat down with OUInsider.com for the Two Minute Drill.
JH: Where did you get your tremendous work ethic?
MC: "I developed my work ethic my freshman year when I came to Oklahoma and was not regarded as one of the better recruits. So, coming into this program I knew that I had to work hard to get noticed and to get respect. I had to prove to the coaches that they could trust me to produce on the field, and that meant first I had to outwork everybody."
JH: You have not let that philosophy die even though you have become a star. You have kept that work ethic throughout your career haven't you?
MC: "Yeah, definitely. And by doing that, it shows the young guys how to work hard too. That way they keep the program going."
JH: Do you take this leadership role very seriously?
MC: "Definitely. Our coaches tell us that we as seniors are not only just supposed to do our jobs, but we need to help the young guys coming up do what they are supposed to do as well."
JH: Last year the season finished a little short for you, so how has that driven you this summer?
MC: "Man, it has been our major motivation through the summer. You hate to go through a season like that and accomplish the things that you did, but you still feel you accomplished nothing. It hurt tremendously to lose the last two games. We have been working hard to try to come back and never have that feeling again. We know physically that we can compete with anybody in the country, or that we are probably better than any team in the country. We just have to keep our mental edge, and if we do we will finish on a good note."
JH: What do you think about all the preseason publicity that you are receiving?
MC: "To me this is a whole new year and what we did last year is pretty much what all that stuff is based on. We have a whole new chemistry as a unit. We have to come back and work hard and try to build our own mental preparation, and we will have our own chemistry this year. All the awards will take care of themselves after the season if we do what we are supposed to do."
JH: That sounds an awful lot like what I heard from Jason White a couple of weeks ago. Is this a team mantra or something?
MC: "You have to, because what you did last year is not going to do anything for you this year. I guess last year may motive us because of the losses that we had. We are trying to get back to the National Championship and win it this year."
JH: Who has been impressive at seven-on-seven />
MC: "All the veteran guys are looking good, working hard and they understand what it takes to be a successful football team. We have a very talented team and we have the rookies coming in who are very talented.
"Defensively, I have worked out with Marcus Walker and we have stayed out after those drills. He works on his press-man and off-man coverage and he is been very, very impressive to me. As far as the new receivers that we got in, Quentin (Chaney), Lendy (Holmes) and Fred (Strong) are all very talented. Lendy is the quickest player of the three and he reminds me of me a little bit, especially when I first got here. I guess we will see over time how that works out. I know he is driven and that he is competing to start this year. Considering our experience and depth, that goal may be far-fetched. But I like the fact he feels like he is going to be a starter."
JH: How are the battles going against Chijioke, Eric Bassey and the rest of the corners going?
MC: "Chijioke is awesome. He is big, strong and fast and he is everything that you want in a corner. Our corners are so good that they make us get better. And in return, we get them better because we have a pretty good receiving core. That is the kind of thing that we have here at Oklahoma, and that is talent up the wazhoo. Everybody on our team just seems to be very good and they are getting better."
JH: You and Jason White throw a 100 passes a day and seem to work on your routes over and over again. Is this to give you the timing necessary when the season starts?
MC: "The passing game is all about repetition. The more times you do them the more natural it is. What we do now will show up later in the season and that is why we work as hard as we do and as much as we do."
JH: How well is Jason throwing the ball? From what I have heard his arm strength is even better than it was last season?
MC: "Yeah, he has gotten a lot stronger and he is going to be more mobile than he was last year. I really don't think you guys have seen the best of Jason."
JH: Last year the light seemed to come on for you and your career took off. But when did you really understand that you were going to be a great player? Did you know that you were going to be a great receiver coming out of high school?
MC: "No, I did not. I knew that I had a strong work ethic and I knew coming in that I was going to have to use it if I was ever going to touch the field out here with these guys. It was during my freshman year that I learned at this level a lot of defensive backs want to jam you, and for a lot of guys it was tough to adjust to that. I was able to use my quickness and get around that and from then on I was able to compete with our varsity corners. Actually, as a freshman I felt pretty comfortable and I was confident I could be a good player at this level."
JH: You are great after the catch, so when did you become the best running back on the team?
MC: "That is what our coaches preach to us day-in and day-out, especially Coach (Bob) Stoops. He tells us that if we catch the ball to get up field and make a play. Coach (Darrell) Wyatt drills us on that every day and we take that seriously, so every time I catch the ball I am trying to take it off the field. We have a lot of expectations for every receiver on the team and we are supposed to make plays and it is expected of us. That is just what we do."
JH: It appears that you and Jason have a special connection going on during the game. Would you say that is correct?
MC: "We have so many good receivers around us that our depth becomes a great luxury for your team. I think Jason trusst other guys to make plays for us as well as me. I think what Jason and I have comes within the team chemistry. We come out in the spring, summer and winter and work hard together. Jason and I have a great chemistry going on that started back when we were on scout team."
JH: Jason throws a tremendous long ball. What is so tremendous about it and why is it a better long ball that any other quarterback?
MC: "When we work on our long balls we say '40 and 5, which is forty yards from the line of scrimmage and five yards from the sideline. It always gives the receiver a chance to make a play, whether he has to go jump for it, or maybe it will be perfect and he can catch it over his shoulder. Jason does a really great job of hitting that spot between forty and five. He and our quarterbacks work on it so much that they throw a ball into a bucket at that spot downfield in practice every day. All of them can pretty much hit the bucket and make one out of 15, which is pretty good."
JH: How are the quarterbacks throwing the ball this summer?
MC: "They are awesome and they all look great. Jason is always good and throwing the ball better than ever. Tommy (Grady) is outstanding and his arm is really outstanding. I really can't put into words how good it is, but it is really good. Paul Thompson is throwing the ball well, and then our rookie quarterback (Rhett Bomar) looks really good. Rhett is real confident, throws the ball well and is on target. Plus, he is big and can run the ball well. He is going to be a real good player."
JH: Last year personally you may have caught teams off guard with your abilities. That certainly won't be the case this year. Will that make it more difficult for you to have success this year?
MC: "I really don't know. It all depends on how well we get our chemistry down this year. If a team tries to just cover me with some kind of special coverage, then we have guys like Brandon Jones, Will Peoples and JeJuan Rankins who can catch a ball and make a play as well. I can't say whether my season is going to be tough or not, but as a unit we will be able to take care of our business and do what we want and what we need to do next year."
JH: Last year you had great offensive success, but can you be even better this year with 10 starters returning?
MC: "That is another goal for us going into this year. It is not to just better those numbers, but it is to be smarter as a group. We have a lot of experience coming back and we know the game and we have played on the big stage. It is all about keeping our mental focus and keeping our mental edge throughout the year."
Clayton taking leadership role in summer workouts
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