Since Gary Patterson took over as head coach for TCU in 2000, he’s built his success with players who maximize their potential and carry the ‘chip on your shoulder’ mentality. That’s a perfect description for former Frog receiver Curtis Clay.
Clay arrived to TCU as a walk-on in 2006 from Lockhart, Texas where he was an all-district cornerback and receiver. He was also named Academic All-State. He was a four-year letterman and played in 52 games during his career as a Horned Frog. Clay hauled in 34 catches for 407 yards and 3 scores in those games and every Frog fan surely remembers his touchdown catch on a rain soaked field at Clemson.
Not too bad for a former walk-on who majored in broadcast journalism at TCU.
For someone who watched Clay for five years from the sidelines whether in practice or a game, it was apparent that Clay was the true epitome of what made the Frogs successful in the four year stretch he was a contributor. It wasn’t just his ability as a receiver, although he was routinely one of the top receivers every practice and I know TCU defensive backs remember. He was also a team leader, always looking to give his teammates advice on ways to get better. And they listened.
Although he didn’t put up the same type of numbers he did as a junior, Clay was a key part in one the Frogs’ most successful seasons in school history as they won the Rose Bowl and finished the year ranked #2 in the country in 2010. He left TCU as a member of the most storied group of seniors in school history. Yet, his career wasn’t over just yet.
Clay fulfilled a childhood dream when he was invited to the Dallas Cowboys training camp in 2011. Not only was it a lifelong dream to have a chance to play in the NFL, he experienced the opportunity to do it with his favorite team.
Again, not bad at all for a player who himself says he had no business being recruited out of high school.
For those who know Clay, they see a passion in everything he does, especially in coaching. Which, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s hoping to someday soon be roaming the sidelines to help players fulfill their dreams like he did. In the meantime, he’ll be working his craft in two weeks at the inaugural CurtisClayCamp. The camp is designed particularly for quarterbacks and receivers for grades 9-12 and will be held in Clay’s hometown, Lockhart, on July 21st from 9AM to 3PM at the Lockhart practice fields.
HFB.com caught up with Clay to get his thoughts on his career at TCU and to learn more about his football camp.
What made you realize TCU was the college you wanted to attend?
“TCU first off, I went there and I just really fell in love with the family environment. Even before I got there it was the most welcoming environment that I had seen in a college campus and I visited a couple of practices and I liked the way they ran things. I just felt like that was the best opportunity for me to go somewhere and contribute. Additionally, I was a broadcast journalism major and they have a standup journalism school. It was the perfect match for me and obviously I did more than I could even imagine.”
Did any other schools pursue you out of Lockhart?
“No, I didn’t have a single offer coming out of high school and that’s what I tell a lot of those guys when I help out at those camps; don’t get discouraged by that because if you really want to play and really committed to putting the work in you can find somewhere to play. It may not be a division one like TCU, but if you really want it there’s somewhere you can play. You just got to find that perfect match for you. It was really perfect timing for me. The only school that even really pursued me was Trinity University and they don’t give athletic scholarships. That was the only school that called me and I got a couple of visits from them.”
There is such a strong tradition of walk-on receivers at TCU. Did you guys always have the chip on your shoulder as a receiving corp?
“Me and Bart (Johnson) actually did talk about that. It really didn’t start with us; there were guys like Derek Moore who played receiver before we did. And I know there were several others who walked on over there. That goes along with Coach Patterson truly does and preaches; it really doesn’t matter if you’re a five star recruit or a walk-on, if you can help the team you will play. If you’re the best person to fill whatever role it is whether it’s starting or doing something on special teams, if you’re the best person for the spot you will play. To me, I just love that about our coaching staff; they don’t discriminate when it comes to that. There were several guys over my four years of playing that were initially brought in to have my job and one way or another me, Bart, Tyler Luttrell and now you look at the same thing, guys like Jon Koontz and others. There’s always guys who want to come in and make an impact and if you work hard the coaches take notice. I think there’s a strong tradition of walk-ons at TCU and I think a lot of it has to do with the mentality of the coaching staff; the best player at that time for that position, will play.”
What were the emotions like for you catching your first career touchdown pass and you guys winning at Clemson?
“It’s funny because that game was obviously the biggest game any of us had played in up to that point in a stadium like that and nationally known. And for whatever reason I was not nervous at all for that game and I still don’t understand it today. I just had a really good feeling and I told my dad that morning that I thought I was going to score a touchdown and he was like I have the same feeling. Luckily enough I caught my first touchdown there and it was in the TCU end zone and I caught it and the first thing I did was point to my parents and I had two uncles there. It was really an awesome feeling to get that win the way we did, it was as perfect as I could imagine for my first touchdown and we went on to have a great season that year. To me I’ll never forget that moment.”
You guys had one of the best seasons and teams in TCU history, what was that feeling like winning the Rose Bowl and finishing #2 in the country?
“It was an amazing feeling; we still get together and talk about it now. I don’t think any of us ever imagined we could put together something as special as we were able to. We just had a bunch of guys that bought in from day one and to see how everything came together in our final game and to reach that pinnacle of the perfect season and finishing the season ranked #2, for us it was validation that we set out to do something and we were able to accomplish it. I’ll tell anybody, we could be any single team that season and I will take that to my grave. People ask me now with the four-team playoff, it is kind of fun to play that hypothetical game but I truly believe on any given day that season that we could beat anybody that we stepped on the field with.”
Are you proud and maybe a little jealous that TCU is now in the Big 12?
“I’m psyched, I’m ready to tailgate and go watch some of these teams. I’m excited to see the new stadium fill up and watch the Frogs and our opponents. It’s a weird feeling but I think every graduating class added something to that extent. Every time we would have former Frogs come back they would be like, ‘we didn’t have the indoor facility, didn’t have that weight room, that locker room, field level suites’. Every year a graduated class would come back and be a little bit jealous just to see what the new guys have but it’s also a very proud feeling to see how the university and football program continues to thrive. It’s a really good feeling. I’m excited to see how it plays out. I’m excited to see our guys who play with that chip on your shoulder mentality because we have a lot of guys that were overlooked by some of the teams in the Big 12 so I’m excited to see how they play against those guys week in and week out. It’s great for the program and university. A lot of people don’t talk about this but I’m glad to see it for Coach P and our coaching staff because they set out to build something. We talked about my senior class and what we did for five years, but look at a broader scale and see what Coach P has done over the last fifteen, I think it’s fantastic and I’m glad for him and the rest of the athletic department to be able to get in a conference where they’ll get some of the recognition that they deserve.”
Who are the guys TCU fans should expect to see big seasons out of in 2012?
“Obviously I pay a lot of attention to the receivers just because it was my position, everyone knows about Josh Boyce and he’s going to do his thing again. I’m excited to see him have a good year. Brandon Carter, you got a little taste of it last year, if he can keep working hard he’s just going to do some crazy things, I’m excited to see him play. Also at tight end, Corey Fuller, this will be his first year as a starter and he’s a big, big target and he knows how to go catch the football. I’m excited to see him take that role. We’ve had a strong line of tight ends, they’re not utilized as much in the passing game but look for Corey Fuller to get used more in that passing game. He creates a lot of mismatches. On the defensive side, Jonathan Anderson is going to have a huge year.”
How talented is the group of receivers on the TCU roster?
“Athletically this is probably the most gifted set of receivers that I’ve seen at TCU and I’ll be one to admit that. We had five receivers from my class that got shots in NFL camps and I think this group has a chance to do something better than that. A lot of it comes down to how much they’re willing to put in and their drive. I think they have time to develop that. If you’re just looking at measurables, these guys have something I don’t know any other receiving corp has. They have a great quarterback to get the ball to them. It really is a special, special group of receivers and I’m excited to see that tradition of guys come in. We didn’t necessarily come in with that (lunch pail) attitude, that’s something we had to develop. We saw our competition and that’s where you really develop that mindset. These guys are going to be competing against each other every day battling for those spots and I think that’s when they really develop that attitude and want to. I hope with them all being athletically gifted and talented receivers, hopefully they see they have a chance to be something special and really push each other to be better. They really have the potential to be special.”
You mentioned going to an NFL camp, what was that experience like for you getting the chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys?
“For me it was surreal because I’ve been a Cowboy fan my entire life. I would’ve been happy to get a call from any NFL team but to get a call from a team I’ve idolized my entire life, it was just crazy. It was crazy getting to walk into a meeting with Tony Romo and Jason Whitten and get advice on how to run my routes. Miles Austin was the first guy to help me with my playbook. It was cool; I really can’t describe it too well. It’s just something I’ll never forget, obviously it was short lived but it’s still an experience and opportunity that I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
Tell us about CurtisClayCamps, what kind of camp is it and what’s your message to the players who will be in attendance?
“Curtis Clay camp is a quarterback and receivers skill camp. This is something that we wanted to do for central Texas kids. I’m doing it in my hometown of Lockhart but we’re also reaching out to north central Texas schools in the area. This is something to help kids develop their craft and we’re going to work on fundamental things and technical skills. After we have a good amount of time working on these skills we’re going to give them the time to go do some one on one’s and compete. I’m very big on competition so I want to give these guys a chance to compete against their peers. We’re also going to let them play some seven-on-seven so hopefully they can take what they learned earlier in the day and go out and apply it in a game-like setting. I’m very big on fundamentals and technique simply because I wasn’t the biggest or fastest. That’s why I want to go down there and give some of those guys who may not be ideal college athletes, I want to make them feel if they really put the work in they can be competitive. That’s really what the camp is about. We want to challenge them and get them to believe that if a small town kid like me can go and play in the Rose Bowl and put on a Cowboys uniform that you can to. I was a small kid in high school, there’s a reason I wasn’t recruited. I was fortunate enough to hit a growth spurt. I want to give the kids the same belief that if you sacrifice some things, they can go recognize some dreams as well.”
Coaching seems to be a very big passion of yours, is that what you ultimately want to do?
“Absolutely, in the very near future I’ll be coaching somewhere. I haven’t really locked it down yet but it’s something I want to do. You can talk to any of my position coaches, even down to my high school; they always saw me as another coach on the field. I’ve always had a passion for it, that’s the same reason I’m looking at teaching and education. I’m big on helping people who are talented and even those who don’t have ideal skills; I want people to reach their potential. That’s what I’m really passionate about is taking someone from the state where they have all the talent in the world and to challenge them to go get it, reach for it. This camp will serve as an opportunity to develop that skill. I’ve had the opportunity to see different coaching styles and personalities that players bring so I’m excited to see how I can take those experiences and translate it to the way I’m going to coach. I already know I’m going to be a very hard coach because I’m not going to have low expectations and I think that’s one of the big things whether it’s coaching or education. I know it’s tough, but I promise if you buy in and get on board, we can accomplish these goals. I learned a lot of that from Coach Burns and Coach Patterson. They said nothing in life worth having is going to be easy.
“That’s really what I want to do at these camps, it will be beneficial to me and I think it will be good for the kids to see me in a different light. We’re a small town so people hear about me from word of mouth so I think it will be good for me to mingle with some of them and inspire some of them as well.”