Record-setting rusher started out at as Junior Eagles’ lineman
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
John Sappington remembers the first time Jacob Clay carried the football in a game. Clay was a seventh grader playing for the Brentwood Junior Eagles. He had been an offensive lineman the year before but Sappington, the coach, decided to try the youngster at running back.
“My son Daryl was our offensive coordinator and he said he thought Jacob might make a good running back,” said Sappington.
Though it happened over five years ago, Sappington can still visualize Clay’s first run: “On his first carry against MICDS he shot out of the backfield like a cannonball and ran 60-some yards for a touchdown. The rest is history.”
Clay, now a senior at Brentwood High School, went on to become the most successful running back in the 69-year history of the BHS football program. Besides rushing for nearly 5,000 yards over the past three seasons and making first team all-state, he is Missouri’s all-time leader for career yards per carry (12.1) and No. 6 in the state all-time for touchdowns.
This week Clay signed a letter of intent to play football at Drake University, an NCAA Division I school in Des Moines, Iowa. He signed it on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent signing period. A ceremonial signing held on Thursday after school in the BHS lecture hall attracted more than 50 students, faculty and relatives.
“He’s a total team player – it’s never about him,” BHS head football coach Keith Herring told the crowd.
Clay isn’t the first Brentwood running back to go to Drake. After graduating from BHS in 1978, Amero Ware became a Bulldog and set six school records there, including yards rushing in a season and in a career. His 1,353 yards rushing in 1981 was eighth best in the NCAA.
In any other school year it is very rare for a BHS athlete to be courted by an NCAA Division I school. But Clay is the second member of the class of 2016 to do so. Three months ago Sophia Rivera accepted a full-ride track and field scholarship offer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Clay said Drake phoned him twice over the summer to say they were interested in him. Over the winter break they called again and said he had a spot on the team if he wanted it. He made an official visit to the university on Jan. 22-23 where he stayed with sophomore running back Alex Minton. Before leaving he made a verbal commitment to the school.
“I’m excited,” he said. “There are 31 guys who signed so there will be a lot of good competition.”
He is one of three running backs among the 31, though he’s listed on the team’s website not by position but as “athlete.”
He will report to a three-week training camp starting the first week of August. Until then the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Clay will continue to work out in the weight room and on the field. He recently bench pressed 255 pounds three times and power-cleaned 255 pounds.
Speaking of Clay’s grueling workouts, Herring, who several years ago dubbed him “Pitbull” for his toughness and tenacity, said, “For fun, Jacob does things most people would puke trying to do.”
Smiling almost as much as Jacob at the BHS ceremony was his mother, Beth Clay. She knows a thing or two about being a college athlete, having played field hockey at Missouri State after graduating from BHS in 1986.
“At Drake he’ll only be a five-hour drive away,” she said. “We are so proud of Jacob. I appreciate all the coaches at Brentwood who have worked with him. John Sappington and Anthony Harper were his first football coaches. John switched him from lineman to running back.”
And as Sappington said, “the rest is history,” though in Jacob’s case the future is looking bright as well.