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Tracking the College Gridiron Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Monday, March 7, 2005

By Sammy Batten

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Incoming QB tailored for Holtz shotgun


Brett Clay had dreamed about playing college baseball before the first Friday night he suited up with the Jay M. Robinson High School varsity football team.

Clay was a mere freshman at the new Concord school and had been tabbed the starting quarterback for the first-year program by head coach Tony Paroli.

“I grew up my whole life wanting to play college baseball,’’ Clay said. “But after that first Friday night, I went home and told my Dad, ‘This is what I want to do.’

“The atmosphere in football was more lively. The whole atmosphere just took me over.’’

Clay will be exposed to an even more energetic football atmosphere next fall at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium when he joins the East Carolina football team.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is a member of the 23-man recruiting class signed earlier last month by new ECU head coach Skip Holtz.

Clay probably helped foster the exciting atmosphere as a freshman starter by throwing for more than 200 yards in a losing effort that night. But he came back to pass for 100 more yards and lead Robinson to the first win in school history the following week.

“From the first day of summer workouts before his freshman year we could tell he was special,’’ Paroli said. “The fact that he was a freshman was an exciting possibility because we were starting a new program without much of a senior class. He was someone to build around.

“We also liked his work ethic and just the way he conducted himself. He was over 6-feet tall as a freshman, so we believed he had great growth potential.’’

Injuries, however, would hinder Clay’s progress over the next four seasons.

A broken leg prematurely ended his freshman year, but he bounced back to lead Robinson to a 9-3 record as a sophomore. Then, an even more serious injury occurred midway through Clay’s junior year after he had directed the team to a 6-0 start.

In the third period of Robinson’s sixth game, Clay’s cleat got caught in the turf, causing his left knee to twist in an unusual manner when he was tackled. A pain shot through Clay’s knee, but at first he didn’t think the injury was serious.

“I felt it pop, but the doctors checked it on the sideline and it didn’t look to bad to us,’’ Clay said. “I hurt it in the third quarter and by the fourth I was walking around on the sideline. So I didn’t think it was that bad.

“Saturday and Sunday I spent icing it, and by Monday and Tuesday it was feeling pretty good. It felt fine, but my knee wasn’t OK.’’

Once the knee was further evaluated, it was discovered Clay had torn the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

“It was pretty devastating,’’ Clay said. “We were winning and having a pretty good year, then bam! Snap your fingers and you’re done.’’

Clay had surgery to repair the knee in October. Six months of intense rehabilitation followed and it was “nine to 10’’ months before Clay felt normal again.

Cleared in April to begin running again, one of the first things Clay did was attend a one-day quarterback camp at the University of South Carolina. It was there that he caught the eye of future East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz and assistant Phil Petty, who were then on the staff at South Carolina.

“They really liked him,’’ Paroli said. “When they (Holtz and Petty) went to ECU, they called to see if he was still available and said they wanted to take another look at him.’’

Clay believes Holtz and Petty were interested because he plays with a style that fits their offensive philosophy.

“They want to sit back in the pocket, get in the shotgun and throw the ball,’’ Clay said. “That’s what I’m comfortable doing. I think they realized there were a couple of guys they had in the program that probably weren’t suited to do that as well as the guys they were recruiting.’’

An official visit to Greenville on Jan. 15 was all it took to sell Clay on the Pirates. Holtz offered a scholarship while he was there and Clay accepted immediately.

Paroli said Clay was recruited by several smaller schools like Coastal Carolina, James Madison, Lenior-Rhyne and Western Carolina. But ECU’s offer will give Clay the chance to prove himself on the major college level.

“I think they’ve gotten a bargain here,’’ Paroli said. “Clay is a quarterback who tries to understand the game and what we’re trying to do on offense. He’s really into trying to manage the game, plus he’s got a good arm and is a good passer. He has great courage. He’s willing to stand in the pocket.

“But he’s not a one-dimensional athlete either. He’s also got a lot of mobility, despite the knee injury. He ran a 4.7 40 at the Shrine Bowl combine last summer, so he could get down to about 4.6 in a college program.

“We’re so happy things fell into place for Brett. I feel like he’s going to be an asset to ECU’s program.’’

Clay enjoyed a strong senior season, completing 76 of 160 passes for 1,270 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Paroli isn’t predicting immediate stardom at ECU for Clay, but he does feel there’s an opportunity for him to earn playing time as a true freshman.

“I would not rule that out,’’ he said. “The key for Brett, obviously, is going to be getting into an offensive system that is geared toward the throwing game. And a lot will have to do with his accompanying cast. But he is a quick learner and will be totally focused on it.

"By August he’ll also be bigger and stronger. My feeling is he’ll be ready to play as any other freshman quarterback in the country.’’

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02/23/2007 02:36:48 PM

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