By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Trying to figure out who was proudest of Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay last Saturday turned into a multiple-choice quiz. There were plenty of options. All-the-above was the best answer.
“I thought it was the best game he’s played,” running back coach Cale Gundy said of Clay’s 157-yard rushing effort in the 35-20 victory over Iowa State.
That wasn’t really up for debate. Clay, a junior, has been in the Sooners’ stable of running backs for three seasons. The Iowa State game was the first time he’d ever been the feature back. Even that didn’t come to fruition until starter Damien Williams’ injured right ankle proved to be too much of a hindrance.
That’s the caveat that comes with playing running back at OU. Opportunities tend to pop up at a moment’s notice. You have to be ready when they arrive.
Clay viewed the Iowa State game in that manner.
“You come to a program like this, I really consider this another Running Back U. Like USC, a couple of other schools,” Clay said. “Anybody can go down at any moment. You’ve just got to be able to step up and take your turn. I was able to do it. I was blessed enough to be able to do so.”
Clay’s waited longer than most for the opportunity. The toughest part of the running back’s career has been gauging it against the players he came in with.
He, along with safety Tony Jefferson and wide receiver Kenny Stills make up the trio from suburban San Diego that arrived in OU’s 2010 recruiting class. Jefferson and Stills became immediate starters. Clay has played in 28 games during his career, but the Iowa State game was the first time he became a focal point in the Sooners’ offense.
But Clay’s attitude has never swayed. Coaches and teammates have noticed that through the years.
“Brennan’s the type of kid that regardless of what happens in circumstances, if he’s playing a lot or if he’s not playing a lot he comes to practice every day and he works hard, he knows his job and he’s humble,” quarterback Landry Jones said. “When something good happens to those kids you always want to cheer them and get behind them. We’re just really appreciative of what he’s done at this place and how hard he’s worked and how consistent of a back he’s been.”
Gundy constantly compares Clay to former OU running back Chris Brown. Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2008. His greatest attribute was that the Sooners knew what they were going to get on every snap.
Clay’s done the same. The only difference this season is that the production has risen. He’s averaging 6.9 yards per carry with four touchdowns. The yards per carry is double what he averaged his freshman and sophomore seasons. Clay believes that can be attributed to better health. He was hampered by them in 2010 and again last season.
Above all else, Clay is the example of taking advantage of what the opportunity truly means. Williams’ right ankle is still tender. The Sooners will likely ride him again on Saturday when they face Baylor at Owen Field.
“There aren’t a lot of guys that are gonna come in here and start for five years. We recruit a lot of good players every year, “ Gundy said. “The biggest misconception is people thinking if you don’t start for three or four years, you haven’t had a great career. That’s not true. You come in here and be a one- or two-year starter and maybe three years playing on special teams; you’ve had a pretty good career at the University of Oklahoma.”