Football is a game that resembles life in many ways. There are always people who are just waiting for a chance to show what they’re capable of. That’s the beauty of the NFL. Players get the chance to prove their worth in a national spotlight.
That is exactly what Baltimore Ravens return man Kaelin Clay did recently. Many know Clay primarily for his blunder against the University of Oregon during his days at the University of Utah. He showboated prematurely at the end of what would have been a 79-yard touchdown and dropped the ball at the one-yard line. An Oregon defender picked the ball up and returned it the other way for a defensive touchdown.
That play is something that Clay knows will stay with him for a while, despite his recent success in the NFL.
“I don’t think people will ever stop talking about that. It is what it is,” Clay said. “I don’t care about it anymore, it’s in the past.”
It was back at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California that Clay began showcasing his playmaking ability. Ironically, Desean Jackson, another dynamic playmaker from Long Beach Poly committed the same error by dropping the ball in celebration before crossing the goal line against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in 2008.
According to an NFL Network interview, Jackson called Clay’s father around this time last year to offer words of encouragement and advice. He said he wanted Clay to make sure he didn’t get down on himself.
Clay played both wide receiver and running back during his senior season at Long Beach Poly. He rushed for 1,048 yards and posted 524 receiving yards, which gave him 1,572 rushing total yards. He scored 15 touchdowns— eight receiving, seven rushing— and had 13 punt returns for 206 yards.
Clay made his presence felt during his only season at Utah after transferring from Mt. San Antonio College. He was named to four different All-American teams as a return specialist in 2014 and was named first-team All-Pac-12 as a return specialist. He finished the season with three touchdowns and he averaged 15 yards over 23 punt returns.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Clay in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but released him when they cut their rosters down to the 53-man requirement before the season. Clay cleared waivers and was signed to the Buccaneers practice squad. The Buccaneers released him again and was signed a week later to the Detroit Lions practice squad.
The Ravens signed Clay and added him to their active roster in mid-November. He made his NFL debut against the St. Louis Rams soon after being added.
Barring any major mistakes or injuries, Clay may have cemented a spot on the Ravens active roster after his 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. Preparation paid off for the rookie and he was sure to credit his teammates for paving the way.
“I have to give credit to the other ten guys on the punt return unit and the coaching staff for a great scheme. I studied this punter for a long time and I knew we’d have room to catch the ball,” Clay said after the Browns game. “You just have to get it and go. It was instinct and you have to set up your blockers for everything to happen.”
The big play was not enough to make Clay complacent, even though it was a relief to have had such an impact. He knows that players are evaluated on a weekly basis in the NFL.
“It feels good but you never have any satisfaction because you know you can do better and you can do more,” Clay said. “It’s always been my mindset to never be happy with just certain results. The touchdown took some weight off of my shoulders, but now I have to prove it every week and that’s my goal.”