The Charleston native grew up watching WVU football and always had dreams of suiting up in the Old Gold and Blue. So when that dream finally came true five years ago, Clay was ecstatic to get his chance - but understood that he might not have much of a role in a program that historically hadn’t used tight ends much in the 10 years or so leading up to his arrival.
But as the years passed and he gained more experience, Clay showed he could be an asset in several ways for Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineer team. And he takes pride in the fact that his initial goal of becoming a contributor on special teams has expanded. There’s no doubt heading into his senior season that Clay is one of the biggest leaders on WVU’s roster and someone the coaches and his teammates look to when things get tough.
“To be honest, I really lacked in self-confidence when I first started out. There are still days when it gets like that, but this whole journey has just been awesome to sit and think about,” Clay said. “This is the team I grew up watching all my life, it’s the team I would dream of playing for when I was a little kid - just like so many kids in West Virginia do all the time.
“It’s kind of unreal to think that at first I would have been happy just playing special teams and now I can be a guy the coaches lean on and depend on.”
Part of Clay’s rise to prominence and a larger role on the team was just his ability and willingness to do so many different things to help WVU in several ways. It’s tough to completely define the name of Clay’s position on the team, mostly because he has a tendency to wear so many hats and take on a handful of different responsibilities.
At times, he will do what he was brought to West Virginia to do - line up at tight end, or potentially even in the slot at inside receiver, and show off his hands. Other times he can put his hand in the dirt and be a steady blocker on the line or will join the Mountaineer running backs in the backfield and lead the way at fullback.
As Clay has grown as a player and Holgorsen and the staff has gotten increasingly more comfortable with the knowledge of what he’s capable of, the more the WVU H-back’s role has grown. It’s something that Clay prides himself in and is eager to see it continue to progress during his senior year and in the future once he leaves based on the foundation that he has helped build to bring the position back to prominence in the Mountaineer offense.
“I don’t mean to sound cocky or anything like that, but it’s sort of something I like to think I helped out with a little bit,” he said. “It’s hard to say we’re not moving more toward it. It really just depends on what our game plan is. Against Oklahoma last year, I ran about 77 plays and then there were some games where I only had like 30. It really just depends on what we’re doing against the other team.”
This year Clay even has a coach dedicated solely to working with him and the other H-backs. Dan Gerberry played offensive line for five years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars and came to West Virginia this year as a graduate assistant and has spent a large majority of his time working with Clay and making sure that he continues to make strides to perfect his craft.
“He helps me out a lot with everything. He can be knit-picky, which is exactly what I need just to get the little things like my steps and hands and that stuff down,” Clay said. “He’s helping me a lot and he’s a good guy. I just like being around him.”
After considering himself to be a key player the last few years, even though he was mostly contributing to plays indirectly by setting key blocks, Clay is hoping that development can help him have one final great campaign in Morgantown before he caps his Mountaineer career. But he knows there’s a lot of work ahead.
“It’s a problem I think tight ends everywhere have a little bit. We’re good at everything but we’re usually not great at much,” Clay said. “There are the exceptions, of course, but we all block well. We can run well and catch it, but we’re not going to make these explosive, jaw-dropping plays like you see some other guys make. The biggest thing they’ve let me do and the biggest way my role has expanded is they’re just letting me do a little bit of everything because they know I can handle that at this point in my career.
“I can do the receiver stuff, play fullback and tight end. I take a lot of pride in that. It keeps things interesting.”