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Carlson: How an OU linebacker chose football over working cattle

by Jenni Carlson Modified: November 2, 2008 at 10:40 am •  Published: November 2, 2008
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photo - Oklahoma's Keenan  Clayton (22) goes after a fumble he forced on Nebraska's Dreu Young (49) during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Nebraska Huskers (NU) at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN
Oklahoma's Keenan Clayton (22) goes after a fumble he forced on Nebraska's Dreu Young (49) during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Nebraska Huskers (NU) at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN
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.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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