NORMAN — Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay is the closer.
The nice, lovey-dovey guy in a three-man group dubbed the Cali Trio helps the Sooners recruit players.
Apparently, when the Cali Trio tries to recruit a player, Clay steps in as the one who closes the deal.
Kenny Stills, Tony Jefferson and Clay are juniors from the San Diego, Calif., area. They got their nickname, Stills thinks, from Twitter.
All are California born and California bred.
Stills and Jefferson are names many Sooner fans recognize. Stills makes the big touchdown catches. Jefferson makes the big hits.
Well, he watched future NFL running backs play his freshman year. His sophomore year, a walk-on stole the starting spotlight. And to start Clay's junior season, a juco transfer came in and received carry after carry — leaving Clay as the third running back on the team.
Then, against Iowa State last Saturday, everyone saw what OU running backs coach Cale Gundy said he's seen every day from Clay: his skills and dedication. In the process, Clay showed what it takes to be an athlete at a Division I football program — not the troublemaker or the superstar — but the guy who goes hard each day until he's called on to shine.
A week passed, but it still bugged Brennan Clay. Those two dropped passes against Notre Dame, he couldn't shake them from his memory.
“That game could have ended up differently,” he said.
Clay ended the day with a stat line that read two receptions for minus-12 yards.
Clay's three roommates — Stills, Jefferson and Damien Williams — didn't see him over the next few days. Clay escaped to his girlfriend's place. Stills said by the next day he was focused on the next game, but Clay admitted more than a week later that he still wondered what the result of the Notre Dame game would have been had he caught those passes.
He used Notre Dame game as motivation for the next time he got a chance to play, at Iowa State. With typical starter Williams out on an ankle injury and last year's star, Dom Whaley, not playing much, Gundy turned to Clay. He put up 157 yards and one touchdown over 24 carries.
“It builds up confidence,” Clay said of his performance vs. the Cyclones. “Being able to go out on Saturday, anybody, that's their dream. 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.”
Brennan Clay might be the one in the Cali Trio with the tamest hairdo. It's a short cut. No star designs like Cali safety Jefferson or platinum-died Mohawk like wide receiver Stills.
But Clay has Toby. His alter ego. He comes out in football games. He did Saturday against Iowa State.
“Toby is my man,” Clay said with a big grin. “He's there. He's always there. When I'm out on the field, he's right there on the fly.”
Clay brought along Toby from his playing days at Scripps Ranch High School, where teammates first gave him the nickname.
“I miss them Toby days,” Clay said. “He's a playmaker. He's a baller. He does it all. He wants to be a motivator on the field. He likes to do everything.”
Maybe it's Toby who has helped the Cali Trio commit approximately 17 recruits compared to three who have turned them down.
Maybe Toby is the lovey- dovey part of Clay that Stills said will “put his arm around you and tell you he'll take care of you.”
Or maybe Clay's alter ego is the reason for his patience on the sideline, waiting for his time to shine. Whatever the case, OU coach Bob Stoops seemed to like the idea of what Toby does on the football field — once he realized Toby even existed.
“Why don't you tell me about it?” Stoops said
Once Stoops heard the story of Clay's “alter ego” and how he credits Toby for big plays — “Well,” Stoops said. “Hope Toby shows up this week.”
RUNNING BACK U
Cale Gundy recruits kids to play for a team championship, not individual accolades. That means finding the best of the best, which will mean that not all the best can start on Saturday.
“You get to college and everybody expects to come out here and start and be a superstar, but that's not how it is,” Stills said. “Some people have to come in and work a little bit harder than others.”
That's another definition of Brennan Clay: Hard worker.
Gundy knew last Saturday he could count on Clay, because, he said, Clay carries all “the little things: preparation, attitude and work ethic.” He knows the 71 offensive snaps that Clay participated in were more than double what he's ever seen. Gundy said Clay has averaged about 30. But just because Iowa State was only Clay's eighth start as a Sooner doesn't mean that he's not capable of producing.
“This is the University of Oklahoma. There's not a lot of people that come in here and play four years,” Gundy said. “Every year. we recruit good running back. I think the big misconception is if you don't come in here and be a three-year, four-year starter, then you haven't had a great career.
“That's not true. You can come here and be a one-, two-year starter and maybe play three years and play on some special teams, you've had a pretty good career at the University of Oklahoma.”
Now it's up to Gundy and Stoops again as to who has a chance to shine against Baylor.
Stoops said he still isn't sure whether Williams will play. During the Iowa State game, Williams limped while trying to slow himself during a run. Although he has been practicing, Williams might not play against the Bears. If Williams can't play, then Clay will most likely get the starting nod.
It doesn't matter that Clay doesn't know yet. He's never checked out, he said. Toby wouldn't like that.