NORMAN — Brennan Clay feels good this spring, in every sense of the word.
The senior running back is healthy and confident. He's also relieved, the result of strong performances late last year after the rough two-and-a-half-season start to his college career.
In the Sooners' Nov. 3 win at Iowa State, Clay rushed for a career-high 157 yards on 24 carries. A few weeks later, his 25-yard touchdown run in overtime sealed Oklahoma's thrilling 51-48 Bedlam win.
But Clay insisted he isn't resting on — or even really thinking about — his laurels.
“Personally, I don't really think of it much,” Clay said. “I'm expecting myself to make plays like that all the time next year, and it's not just one game. It's being able to be consistent throughout the whole year.”
In an early-season win over Florida State during Clay's freshman year, he sustained a violent hit that sent him to the hospital, caused a concussion and sidelined him for a month.
Entering his sophomore season, Clay found himself in the thick of a six-person race to be Oklahoma's starting running back. He started six games that year, rushing for 230 yards and a touchdown, but struggled the entire year with a painful stinger in his neck and saw his playing time decrease as the season progressed.
Even so, of the six backs fighting for touches in the 2011 preseason, Clay and fellow senior Roy Finch — whose role in the backfield decreased dramatically last season — are the only two still with the Sooners.
Three others — Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brandon Williams — left the program early, and Dominique Whaley's eligibility ran out.
Whaley began last season as Oklahoma's starting running back, but wound up spending most of the year on the sideline because of a lingering ankle injury and junior-college transfer Damien Williams' emergence.
When Williams was hurt and unable to play at Iowa State, though, Clay embraced the moment and shined.
“I just think it's a great tribute to staying after it and being accountable to your teammates, and always practicing hard and playing hard,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “He's a guy that all the coaches trust because he knows what to do, he's always working hard, and he's always working to be in position to make something happen. So when he did get his opportunities, he was ready for it.”
Clay finished his junior year with 83 carries, 511 yards and six touchdowns, including Bedlam's game winner.
In 2013, Williams and Clay — former San Diego high-school rivals who are now roommates — are expected to carry the load in Oklahoma's run game.
“It was a big weight off my shoulders, because I knew I could play in college,” Clay said of his late-season success. “That wasn't the problem at all. The problem was just being healthy.
“Finally, I got a chance to be 90 to 100 percent every game. I felt good. That's my biggest focal point right now is just staying healthy. I'm still putting on weight, becoming stronger and faster. I'm excited. It's just been a blessing.”