NORMAN — Keenan Clayton knows what it means to work hard. He wants no part of it, either. That’s why he plays football. Now, don’t jump to conclusions about the Oklahoma linebacker. He’s no slacker. He’s no slouch. Truth is, coaches rave about his work ethic, and teammates respect him for that drive. And after a weekend that put the Sooners in the middle of the national championship chase, no player is more important to their hopes than Clayton. After several disappointments over the past couple of seasons, he has emerged as a defensive mainstay. Clayton has labored long to reach this point. It’s a lesson learned from his father, Quon. “I’m never satisfied,” Clayton said after OU throttled Nebraska, “and I know he’s never satisfied.” There was little to criticize Saturday. Clayton led the Sooners with seven solo tackles against the Cornhuskers. He also helped fuel the rout, forcing a fumble that led to OU’s third of four touchdowns in the game’s first six minutes. “It seems like every day he’s more comfortable,” his father said. “He’s having to work at that job. That’s what it is — a job — and if you don’t do it, somebody else will.” If anyone knows about doing a job, it’s Quon Clayton. He has been working at the Sulphur Springs Livestock and Dairy Auction in the East Texas town for decades. The weekly auctions are central to that area’s thriving dairy industry. Sales regularly draw several thousand head of cattle, but the calf sale is one of the biggest. With as many as 5,000 or 6,000 calves for sale, the livestock must be hauled in throughout the week. As the calf sale approached a couple summers back, the Claytons were talking about Keenan’s future. He was among the top recruits in the country, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Keenan: “If I don’t want to go to school and I want to work, that’s what I’m going to do.” Quon: “Well, I’m going to take you to work with me for a week and see what you’d rather do.” Keenan figured he’d be working along side his dad, who helped oversee the livestock. Instead, Quon put him in an entry-level job. He wanted Keenan to know what it would be like starting out, being the new guy, doing the grunt work. The Claytons woke up before 5 a.m. and arrived at work before 6. There were calves to be watered and fed, sorted and weighed. “We worked hard that week,” Quon said. Wearing jeans and boots in the East Texas heat, Keenan spent hours in the sorting chute. Calves were separated by size, and after they were weighed, someone would call out which pen the calves belonged in. He had to find the proper gate, letting in the new calf while keeping in any calves already in the pen. Growing up, Clayton never understood why his dad came home so exhausted. After that week, he did. “When I got the check, I was like, ‘Yeah, I made a little money,’” Clayton said. “Then I thought about it — ‘I worked too hard to make this little bit of pocket change.’” It gave him a new outlook on football and a new appreciation for his father. “That’s when I realized this is how hard my dad works every day for me to have the things that I want or the things that I need,” Clayton said. “My daddy is my biggest influence on my life.” The father’s example is fueling the son’s emergence. Even though Clayton has changed position each of the past three seasons, going from safety to cornerback and now to linebacker, he has been one of the Sooners’ most consistent players this season. Such steady play at the position around which this defense is built is crucial, especially with Ryan Reynolds sidelined the rest of the season. “For a guy who’s played, until this year, really not at all, I’ve been extremely pleased,” Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of Clayton. “Love his attitude.” Venables likens Clayton to another Sooner linebacker, Clint Ingram. He struggled to find his niche, but once he did, he blossomed. Clayton and Ingram have another similarity. “I always appreciated Clint’s dad because he would call and never ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why isn’t my son playing?’” Venables said. “The conversation would be, ‘Coach, whatever you do, keep coaching him, and please don’t give up on him.’ “K.C.’s dad was exactly the same — ‘We don’t quit.’” Clayton thought about doing just that several times. Through all the position changes and all the on-field struggles, Keenan would call Quon saying he was ready to pack up and head home. He was done with football. He was just going to get a job. “You really want to come home and work?” the father would say. The son would fall silent. “I know you remember when I took you to work.” How could he forget? Clayton doesn’t want to forget. The memory of that back-breaking work pushes him to strive for something more. The strain of that manual labor motivates him to seek something better. That’s why he plays football. “I feel like I haven’t reached the top of my game,” Clayton said. “It’s still out there for me.” And he intends to work until he gets there.