John E. Hoover: Brennan Clay is no longer the odd man out of OU's California trio
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
11/07/12 at 4:00 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
Mack Brown is right: Big 12 will likely penalize hand gestures, and the game will die just a little bit.
Original Print Headline: Clay no longer odd man out of OU's 'Cali Trio'
Before last Saturday, the Cali Trio was something not many rational Sooner fans could fully attach themselves to.
But then last week, Brennan Clay finally arrived, finally lived up to his recruiting hype, finally had a big-play, consistent-play, breakout game, and finally, officially, joined his California brethren.
Just one week after getting one rushing attempt against Notre Dame, Clay rushed 24 times for 157 yards and a touchdown and compiled 223 all-purpose yards in the Sooners' 35-20 victory at Iowa State.
Safe to say, those were all career highs. By a lot.
"Going out on Saturday, being able to start and put up good numbers, it was fun to be able to go out there and do it," Clay said.
Clay's long overdue big day puts him at last in the company with wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson, his two San Diego pals, with whom he has been forever linked as the "Cali Trio."
The nickname was more self-promotion than anything, or at best a media creation that the players themselves fed. It worked well. They're all thoughtful and insightful in interviews, so they've always been requested by media.
They've also all been the point men on a handful of key recruits over the years. When a high-profile prospect came to Norman, he spent time with the Cali Trio.
But when they were freshmen, and when they were sophomores, and even halfway through their junior season, Clay always seemed the odd man out.
While Stills had emerged as the Sooners' best receiver, and while Jefferson became OU's best overall defensive player, Clay languished on the depth chart, behind freshmen and walk-ons and junior college transfers.
Going into this season, Clay had rushed for just 427 yards. He averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per reception. He had just three carries - three! - of at least 10 yards, and those were 10, 11 and 12.
Then last week in Ames, with this year's starter Damien Williams out with an ankle injury and last year's starter Dominique Whaley out for some reason or another, Clay got the start and responded big-time. In just one game, he had runs of 12, 12, 13, 15 and 18 yards.
Hey, sometimes it just takes a little while.
"I knew if I was patient, it was going to come," Clay said. "I put my faith in the Lord and I knew good things were going to come."
Against the Cyclones, Clay broke tackles, juked defenders, stiff-armed and lowered his shoulder, ran with power and finesse and attitude and confidence.
Clay's supporters will say he always did that, but he didn't.
He said the Iowa State game "slowed down tremendously" for him.
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound Clay is no flash in the pan. He has enormous talent. His senior year in high school, he became the first player in San Diego history to amass 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. He was even compared closely with USC's ex-Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
He's a natural ballplayer, an instinctive athlete with good hands, good speed, good moves and good strength.
He just never showed it all at OU until Saturday.
Part of it was a pinched nerve in his neck that he said "felt like the worst thing ever." Now, he's 100 percent, even if Williams and Whaley are not.
"I knew that I could contribute to this team somehow, some way, whether it's receiving, returns, the whole nine," he said. "It feels good being able to get the ball and make plays and doing whatever I can."
Clay has four touchdowns and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry this season, but last week was just his seventh career start. Jefferson from Chula Vista, Calif., has 29 starts (he leads the team in tackles this year and has eight career interceptions), and Stills, from Encinitas, has 33 starts (with 173 catches, 2,284 yards and 19 TDs).
"They've both been balling out," Clay said. "I can't take that away from them. I'm happy and proud of them. Either way, seeing them do great makes me happy, so I may be able to get on the field and do whatever I can do, too."
So Clay is still catching up, but at last, it seems the Cali Trio can stand together as a real trio.
"You always envision that when you sign 'em," head coach Bob Stoops said. "You expect them to have great careers. Fortunately for these guys, they've all done really well.
"It's been fun to see them mature over these three years. ... They're all wonderful young people."
OU's Brennan Clay hops over Iowa State defenders on Saturday. Clay's big day against the Cyclones helps put him in the company of more successful California teammates. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World