NORMAN — Brennan Clay hopes to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark Saturday, when Oklahoma wraps up its regular season with Bedlam in Stillwater against Oklahoma State.
That would be quite the moment for Clay, a senior running back who has battled injuries, the depth chart and high expectations throughout his four-year career. Still, few things could happen Saturday that would top Clay's 2012 Bedlam moment, when he rushed for an 18-yard touchdown in overtime that sealed the Sooners' 51-48 victory on Owen Field.
“It's something everyone's gonna remember,” Clay said. “I'm just fortunate enough to be part of history. It's just one of those down-to-the-wire Bedlam games, and being part of that is something special.”
Clay was ranked as the nation's No. 2 running back in the recruiting class of 2009, and signed with OU out of San Diego's Scripps Ranch High.
But early in his true freshman season, he sustained a violent hit from a Florida State defender that sent him to the hospital with a concussion and forced him to sit out a month.
As a sophomore, Clay fought through a nagging neck injury and fell behind Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch on the depth chart.
He entered his junior season with the second-lowest yards-per-carry average in OU football history, with a career-long run of only 13 yards.
Not only that, Clay watched as his two best friends on the team — fellow Californians Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills — became team stars and fan favorites.
For the first half of 2012, Clay appeared headed toward another lackluster season after junior-college transfer Damien Williams emerged as the Sooners' No. 1 running back. But with Williams hampered by an ankle injury in an early November game at Iowa State, Clay rushed for 157 yards on 24 carries.
A few weeks later, he scored the game-winner in Bedlam and was mauled by Jefferson and Stills as the team celebrated on the field.
“Being able to celebrate that moment with them was something special,” Clay said.
“I feel like throughout my whole career I've been battling injuries, with the concussion. That sophomore year, the lingering neck injury was rough. … In my junior year, being a part of that, finally being able to catch up (with them) I feel like because I was put behind.”
Stills and Jefferson each bolted a year early for the NFL Draft, leaving Clay as the only remaining Sooner from the “Cali Trio.”
As a senior, Clay had a few big performances early this season, but didn't receive many carries through a rough four-game stretch beginning with the Sooners' loss to Texas in early October.
But at Kansas State on Nov. 23, Clay recorded a career-high 31 carries and 200 rushing yards, putting his preseason 1,000-yard goal within reach; he's only 157 yards shy of the benchmark.
“Brennan is the greatest example of being ready when your number gets called,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “He's never been the full-time starter, but he's had some huge moments in his career and really, that's the ultimate compliment is that you're ready when you're called upon.”