Former player helped TCU; now it's society's turn

Posted Monday, Aug. 08, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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Gary Patterson's chances of finding another quarterback who will match or exceed Andy Dalton's production should happen no later than 50 years from now.

No passer at TCU has done what Dalton did since the days of Baugh and O'Brien.

There will not be another Dalton.

While we're at it, Patterson is never going to find another Curtis Clay. His accomplishments do not compare to Dalton's, but what a guy like Clay means to a team and a head coach can't be overstated. What a Curtis Clay means to college athletics, and society, can't be overstated.

Full disclosure: I am unabashedly biased to Clay, who finished his college career as a TCU receiver in the Rose Bowl. He was in my journalism class at TCU, when he was a mere walk-on who was sure his head coach didn't know his name.

Clay alone restored my faith in Division I college football players, in the power of positive thinking, in patience, in persistence, in work, in parenting and that this coming generation isn't amped up on laziness and themselves.

When Clay came to TCU as a walk-on he had to convince his parents that he would earn a scholarship. He had two years to get one or he would have to transfer because his mother didn't want him crushed by student loans. Curtis repeatedly told his parents to be patient because he knew something was going to hit.

Every play he made in practice or on special teams during a game was a sign that he could do this. If they could just wait for another semester, he knew he would get that scholarship.

In the spring of his redshirt sophomore year, Clay figured his head coach knew who he was when he was put on scholarship. He had earned the trust of a coaching staff.

"That's what this is about -- they have to trust you," he said.

Clay estimates he has about $50,000 in student loans to pay off.

"Best money I ever spent," he said. "It's going to take some time to pay, but I look at it as an investment."

Spend five minutes around this guy and you would see how much a difference parenting makes. Watch Clay conduct himself and you know that the power of the home is greater than day care, elementary or high school. Outside might be gaining ground -- and not always in a good way -- but parenting still wins.

"Huge. Just huge," he said of his parents' influence. "More than anything, my life's goal is to be as good of a father as my dad is. If I can be half as good as he is to myself and my siblings, I'll be a great dad. It's my duty."

By the time Patterson put Clay on scholarship he knew he had something more than a scout-team player who ran down on kickoffs. He knew how important guys like Clay were to his team.

If TCU doesn't have guys like Clay on its team for the past two seasons, there is no BCS berth. There is no Rose Bowl win.

Clay embodies what the NCAA sells, but the likes of Terrelle Pryor and others easily ruin: There is nothing else more important than that of the greater good, and that it's not about him.

"My passion is, and I think it would be more fulfilling, to work with kids and try to push them to be better themselves, and not just in athletics," Clay said. "One of the biggest problems we have in youth today is they have such low expectations for themselves. My parents set the bar so high. Not graduating from college was not an option."

Clay earned his degree in broadcast journalism. He's one class away from earning his master's in education administration.

He does not want to be done playing football. The roster invite he was hoping for from an NFL team has not come. He lives in Arlington, hoping for an invite from the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League at the end of the month. His parents are helping him, and he is prepared to take a part-time job while he stays in shape in hopes of a shot.

At 22, this is what Clay should be doing. Call it the equivalent of the college grad backpacking for a year in Europe or going for it in Hollywood. You're only this age once and when football is done, it's done. Clay is a good reminder to any high school or college athlete who is thinking about quitting: When it's gone, it's gone.

Unlike so many former college players who are holding on for a shot, Clay knows football isn't going to be forever, so he has a clear direction of where his post-playing days are going. He just doesn't want to hit that road yet. Why should he? He has plenty of time to be old.

"Last year, I didn't have the year I wanted individually, so I'm hoping to build my résumé, so to speak," he said. "I just want to keep playing as long as I can."

Not sure how much football Clay has left. For his sake, let's hope it is years. A football team is better with Curtis Clay.

Society is better with Curtis Clay.

He is proof it can be done and that high standards are attainable, but to think anything of note can be accomplished quickly or without work is preposterous.

If you are a TCU football fan, hope Gary Patterson can find another Curtis Clay. But, just as with Dalton, don't be surprised if he doesn't. There aren't many like him.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

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