Weighing the Issues

Working out multiple times a day during the summer, sophomore John Clay feels he is in top physical shape with his body and top mental shape with the playbook. With that in mind, Clay is happy with the benefits his 248-pound frame provides him.

MADISON - Sophomore John Clay admits that he doesn't read the papers or surf the Internet message boards too often.

But when he does, the talented running back from Racine (Wis.) admits to getting a good laugh when people or publications fraternize about Clay's weight.

"People make it a big deal, like it was the end of the world (that) I gained so much weight," Clay said with a laugh. "I even told my mom the week before camp (that) they can't be barbecuing and grilling out. She went on a diet with me. Everybody (in the family) did."

So when Clay admitted to weighing in at the start of camp at 248 pounds, he was happy with where he stood compared to last season. During last year's redshirt freshman campaign, Clay's 6-foot-2 frame carried over 250 pounds, a weight he said was entirely comprised of healthy weight.

Spending the off-season doing additional conditioning sessions to what he participated in with the team (doing as many as three workouts with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert a day), Clay has turned a lot of his sluggish fat into muscle, which has helped him increase his explosiveness.

"I still feel I am explosive," Clay said. "I feel real good being at the weight I am at. My frame is a lot bigger than other people's, so I can hold a lot more weight than the regular size person. I am still explosive, I still can run away from people and I can make my cuts. If I can do that, everybody is happy."

If Clay expands on the numbers he did last season, the weight issue might be finally put to rest. Backing up P.J. Hill last season, Clay rushed for 884 yards on 155 carries (5.7 average) and nine touchdowns. Once he became familiar and comfortable in the offense, Clay surpassed 100-yards rushing in three of his final five games, making him earmarked for plenty of awards and accolades this season, although he would be the last to know.

"I try to avoid the hype," said Clay, who already dealt with hype when he was named by many publications as one of the top prep running backs in the county. "My offensive line has told me that they are willing to put their bodies out on the line. I take that as respect for them, saying they are going to give a 100 percent for me. When I hear that, I am going to give 110 percent when they do the same for me. Without my teammates, I can't do anything. I am just keeping myself grounded and rolling with the punches."

After Hill left, Clay said the biggest thing between him and success was learning the entire playbook, as the UW coaching staff slowly spoon feed the offense to him his first two seasons. Admitting to having 90 percent of the playbook down, Clay has taken this first two weeks of camp on picking up different blitz packages and, more importantly, keeping his body healthy.

"With a year under my belt in the system, reading the plays and getting them back in my head, I feel pretty confident," Clay said. "If I don't know, I am not worried about asking questions to get the knowledge I need. Everyday, I need to be asking questions."

But even if Clay starts to get worn down in his first season as the team's full-time starter, Wisconsin will have plenty of other options in the backfield. Junior Zach Brown has looked like his old self during camp, possessing speed between the tackle and has become a better blocking back. Freshman Erik Smith is a speedy runner that can get to the corner and out run the defense, much like Lance Smith did in 2007 for UW. New to the group is freshman Montee Ball, who has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic since coming to campus in June.

"It's a real good momentum swing," Clay said of the other runners. "People think that we have a big line and we're just going to pound the ball. We got speed backs that can go outside, backs that can breakaway and backs that can run between the tackles. We have a good group that bring something different."

With the assistance he has from Brown, Smith and Ball, Clay won't be counted on to make the big play, every play. Being preached patience by his coaching staff and Hill, Clay is ready to showcase himself as the leader of the offense, all 248 pounds of him.

"I know I am one of the key guys in the offense, so I have to know everything so I can contribute positively," Clay said. "Being patient, waiting for anything to develop and going with my gut feeling will help me do that."


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