Clayton finally grabbing a little attention
NORMAN, Okla. -- It would have been easy for Mark Clayton to get lost in the star shuffle at top-ranked Oklahoma.
Eleven Sooners were being pushed for All-America honors and awards ranging from the Heisman Trophy to the Lombardi Award. Clayton wasn't one of them.
He was simply part of a nameless, faceless group of wideouts replacing the Sooners' top four career receivers. And at a school known for dominant defenses and powerful running games, Clayton would've been lucky to have even a few accolades thrown his way.
Then the season began.
Seven games later, Clayton has emerged as Oklahoma's top receiver and one of the best in the country. The 5-foot-11 junior caught passes for more than 100 yards in four of the past five games, including a school-record 190 yards against archrival Texas.
Clayton has been such a revelation that Oklahoma's sports information department hastily put together a campaign for him to be included on the list for the Biletnikoff award as college football's best receiver.
"I think he's earned that with his play, with his yards, with his receptions," coach Bob Stoops said. "His play the last few weeks has been exceptional."
Clayton strung together some good performances early in the season, but it was a record-breaking game against Texas that raised eyebrows.
He befuddled the nation's top-ranked pass defense with jukes and cuts that turned short passes into long gains. Clayton had four catches of at least 30 yards, including a touchdown, as he managed to upstage Texas receiver Roy Williams, a likely top-five NFL draft pick this year.
"He came out and showed his ability to run routes and really be a playmaker on that team," said Texas cornerback Nathan Vasher, himself a candidate for the Thorpe Award. "All the credit goes to him."
That Clayton's breakout game came at the Cotton Bowl, just miles from his hometown of Arlington, Texas, made it much sweeter.
"It's crazy," Clayton said. "I never thought it would be me."
As a 150-pound high school senior, Clayton caught the eye of a few college scouts who were recruiting a more highly touted teammate. Until then, Clayton had been mulling over a few offers from Division I-AA schools.
He'd never watched or attended a college football game until Oklahoma entered the recruiting process. On his recruiting visit to Norman, he went to the Oklahoma State game and tried to imagine himself on the field against bigger, stronger, faster players.
But the Sooners could, and now they're glad they took a chance on him.
Clayton, now up to 187 pounds, has become the unquestioned leader of the Sooners' talented receiver corps, with coaches using his toughness and knack for making big plays after the catch as an example for others.
"With him, it all starts when the ball is in his hands," offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. "Some receivers, it ends when they get the ball. With him, it just begins."
And so has Clayton's postcard campaign for postseason honors.
Oklahoma plans to send out postcards with Clayton's last name spelled out in a circle. The letters Y, A and C will be capitalized in the spiral, short for the football statistical acronym for yards after catch.
Stoops has been not-so subtly campaigning for the past few weeks, noting Clayton entered this season without a lot of hype.
"I don't understand all the preseason stuff," Stoops said. "We should evaluate through the year what people do. I still believe all the awards are handed out far too early."
Clayton almost sheepishly deflected the praise from his coach.
"Whatever coach says about me, that's great," he said. "I know there are some good receivers out there."
It took some time, but now Clayton has become one of them.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Sources: UM optimistic at landing Harbaugh
- PSU edges BC in OT to claim Pinstripe Bowl
- USC holds on in wild Holiday win over Huskers
- Briles' son promoted to Baylor off. coordinator