For Ducks Linebacker Michael Clay, It’s NFL or Bust
In February’s NFL Combine there were 333 players that received invites to the professional showcase. However, one player who surprisingly didn’t receive an invite was Oregon linebacker Michael Clay.
Despite being voted second team All Pac-12 by the conference’s coaches, Clay wasn’t asked to participate in Indianapolis. A common factor associated with Clay is his lack of physical stature on the football field in comparison to other professional linebackers, a fact that Clay is well aware of. “At 5’11 I’m not the ideal size for the NFL,” Clay said.
While Clay didn’t partake in the NFL combine, that doesn’t mean scouts and coaches don’t have a good idea of the kind of player he is. In reality, Clay’s draft journey began long before he stepped on campus at the University of Oregon.
Clay went to perennial Northern California power house Bellarmine High School where he put up quite a resume for himself. As a Bell, Clay showed his versatility while playing on both sides of the ball and special teams. While being a very successful fullback in high school, Clay was destined to play linebacker at the next level.
After a successful tenure at Bellarmine, the four star recruit from San Jose had earned the chance to play at a variety of different division one programs. When national signing day came around Clay made the choice to spend his next 4 years playing football in Eugene, Oregon. “The players and the university in general drew me to Oregon,” said Clay. “It was far enough and close enough to my home in the Bay Area.”
Clay didn’t have much time to adjust from high school to the Pac-12. In his first season Clay was counted on to be a integral part of Oregon’s defense. As a freshman, Clay totaled thirty tackles for the green and yellow proving that he could handle the rigors of college football.
After his freshman year Clay became a cornerstone in defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti’s defense, totaling 247 tackles in his career at Oregon. “Coach Al took a chance on me during recruiting,” Clay said. “His defense prepared me by putting me in many different positions.”
Playing for the Ducks meant that Clay would be no stranger to success. In his time playing for Oregon, Clay went to four BCS bowls including a trip to the national championship in 2010 where they lost to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. However, in his last two BCS appearances Clay played outstanding, leading the Ducks to two victories while achieving the defensive player of the game in last seasons 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
“It was amazing. It was the cherry on top for all the hardwork that was put in,” Clay said. “It was just another thing I could say I made my family proud for.”
With his dad in attendance, Clay strapped on his cleats for a final time at Oregon’s annual pro day earlier today. Clay was subject to the same kind of testing that players went through in February’s combine with a similar amount of NFL scouts on hand. Instead of crumbling under the immense pressure of this kind of stage, Clay shined. Clay looked faster, bigger, and stronger than he did when he last suited up in the Fiesta Bowl. He did twenty-two reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and ran the 40-yard dash at an unofficial 4.7. Clay was slotted next to fellow linebacker and draft prospect Kiko Alonso in the field drills and jokingly stated that he was even better than his battery mate in one category. “Kiko dropped a ball in one of the drills; it’s good to know I have the best hands out of the linebackers,” he said.
One person that was singing the praises of Clay was new Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich. When asked about his team and the departing players in general, one of the first names he brought up was Michael Clay.
“Michael Clay has been one of the best leaders I’ve ever known,” Helfrich said. “You can’t think of enough good things to say about him. He’s a guy I would let marry my daughter.”
If an endorsement of that caliber wasn’t enough to catch scout’s eyes, then his overall performance on the field was. In an effort to show scouts the versatility he possesses, Clay even participated in some long snapping drills, the first time he had done so in three years.
After finishing the pro day’s scheduled events, Clay was asked by scouts of the Atlanta Falcons to spend some extra time working with them. They issued a recognition test for him to make sure that he understood the different types of defense that a educated professional must possess; a task that Clay presumably passed with flying colors.
In a league where stopwatches and vertical leaps can decide whether a player can play in the NFL, sometimes it’s necessary to examine the different intangibles that a player possesses. Clay is a linebacker with natural instincts. He may not run the fastest or look the biggest, but Clay will show up every down, give his all, and always be in the correct spot. He even compared himself to Redskin Pro-Bowl linebacker London Fletcher in regards to his physical limitations. Fletcher has proven, just like Clay did for the Ducks, that speed and size doesn’t make a football player. Instincts and intelligence, alongside physical skills, are really what produce a star on Sundays.
While not attracting the same attention fellow Ducks Dion Jordan or Kenjon Barner get, Clay will be an immediate boost to whatever NFL team takes a chance on him, not only on the football field but off it.
If Clay isn’t drafted by the NFL, he’d like to do what he’s always loved most by being a high school counselor or parole officer. “There’s a lot more to life than football,” he said. “Football isn’t going to be there forever.”
For all Ducks and Lane county sports related news follow Joseph on Twitter @jhoyt42