Q&A with Mark Clayton
We caught up with ex-Arlington Sam Houston and Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton
One of the most feared wide receivers in Big 12 history, Mark Clayton made his mark on college football in a major way for Oklahoma in the early 2000s.
Clayton, known for his highlight reel grabs and yards after the catch, shattered school records en route to being named a two-time All-American and helping the Sooners reach the 2005 national title game.
The Arlington Sam Houston product went on to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Clayton also played with the St. Louis Rams before injuries ultimately cut his pro career short.
Our EJ Holland recently caught up with Clayton, who is now an entrepreneur and wide receiver trainer.
EJ: We’re going to start way back during your high school days at Arlington Sam Houston. Do you a favorite Friday night memory from your time there?
MC: “Well, I love Coach Ken Ozee. He’s an amazing coach and a very passionate guy. My favorite memory though is Coach Flowers always talking about the towel. I was a quarterback at the time, and he said if I didn’t have a towel, I was ready to practice or play. If I didn’t come out with a towel, he would say, “Clayton, come on son! Where is your towel!?” and he would send me back to the locker room to get it. I would religiously get hassled about not having a towel. It was a swag thing. Swag was even around then, or at least the word, but it was an unspoken confidence or style for a quarterback. Also, Coach Ozee used to ride in a cart often because he was a bigger guy, and one of our quarterbacks threw a ball and it sailed and one of the receivers smashed into his cart. It was classic.”
EJ: What was it like making the transition from quarterback to receiver?
MC: “It was interesting. I played quarterback on junior varsity, and I didn’t play very much at all my junior year on varsity. Towards the end of the year, we had a couple of injuries. Our starting and backup quarterback both got injured. At that point, they brought me up to play quarterback against Duncanville. It was terrible. We probably crossed the 50 one time. After that game, the coaches said they were obviously not going to have me play quarterback. They wanted to try me at receiver. I played one or two games there, but in the offseason with 7-on-7 oandhow Texas high school football is, it just became like clockwork. I learned it like the back of my hand, and I started to get recruited in the summer thanks to the state 7-on-7 tournament at Texas A&M. It just snowballed after that.”
EJ: As mentioned, you’re originally from the Dallas-area. Why do you think the state of Texas produces so many top-notch wide receivers?
MC: “I think it’s just the culture. It’s a football culture. You just get it. You grow up around it and when you’re immersed in it, even your not so best player can go somewhere and be a contributor. It’s just the culture. We breed football players in general. It’s a football state.”
EJ: Well, you actually decided to leave the state and go to Oklahoma. Why did you spurn some of the in-state programs to go play for the Sooners?
MC: “I had to get out of my house (laughs). My mom was an overbearing mom, so I wanted to be out of there. I wanted to go to places like Georgia Tech, Minnesota and USC. As the recruiting process went on, I started looking more at Oklahoma. I have a lot of family there, and they threw the ball a lot with Mike Leach. I never got to play for him because left for Texas Tech, but I just thought it was a great place for me.”
EJ: I’m sure it would have been fun to play for Leach. But you did get to play for Bob Stoops. How would you describe his coaching style?
MC: “Stoops is a general. He’s a lieutenant. At that time, he ran a really tight ship. For him, he was coming in to change the whole culture of the program. He wanted to bring back the Oklahoma tradition of dominance. With that, there wasn’t a lot of time for BS. He didn’t play. A lot of our training and the way we practiced spoke to that. It was National Championship or bust. He conditioned our minds to expect to be great. He wasn’t necessarily friendly. He wasn’t going to sit down and be your best friend. But at the end of the day, he was a good ball coach.”
EJ: One of the biggest games in this state is Texas vs. Oklahoma. Can you just talk about playing in the Red River Rivalry and the atmosphere around the game?
MC: “It’s simply amazing. It’s the best. The whole split stadium thing is the best in college football period. Having the state fair around it is great. Just walking out of the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl with my teammates, you can’t even put it into words. The whole deal is amazing. I really enjoyed my freshman year because it was the first big game where I got to make plays. I was a key factor in us winning a game. I was almost like a scared kid. I just got the ball and didn’t want anybody to hit me. In doing that, I made people look silly. It was really the beginning of everything.”
EJ: Speaking of Texas, did Mack Brown try to recruit you?
MC: “Well, they had three receivers come in, and their names were Roy Williams, BJ Johnson and Sloan Thomas. They were the top three receivers in the country, I believe. So the answer is absolutely not (laughs).”
EJ: Well, things worked out great for you at Oklahoma. By the way, we have the Sooners winning the Big 12 this year. We do, however, think Baylor could repeat as champs. Are you sweating the Bears?
MC: “Art Briles has done a tremendous job with Baylor, man. It’s really amazing to see how he’s turned that program around. But you know, there is always good competition in the Big 12. We need that. At the end of the day, Oklahoma is going to show up, they are going to play defense and try to put as many points on the board. So will Baylor. And we’ll see who is the best at that.”
EJ: After Oklahoma, you were selected in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens and went on to play for the St. Louis Rams a few years later. Looking back on your career, what were some of the best moments from your time in the league?
MC: “Playing with Steve McNair was probably the most fun I ever had. It was the biggest statistical year I had, but Mac was just a different kind of guy. He was a country, home cooking kind of guy. He’d hunt. He was just a good ole’ country boy. The way he’d carry himself was always like things are not so bad. You’re going to be all right. That’s kind of how he led us. We could mess up, but we were going to be fine. I had the greatest time playing with McNair. The craziest moment in a game was I had a teammate poop his pants. I’m not going to say his name, but there was stain, and we knew what that color meant. He got roasted after the game (laughs).”
EJ: A lot of players say retiring is the hardest decision they’ve made in their entire lives. How hard was it for you to hang up the cleats?
MC: “It was hard. Ever since my rookie year, I had started. You know you have the ability and you can do it and do it really well, but when you have the injuries take place, you don’t feel as stable. That really bothers you. You have to take into consideration your health in your 40s, 50s and 60s. It’s a really tough decision. I had three surgeries in three years. I didn’t feel like I could really protect myself at the end of the day.”
EJ: Even during your playing days you were an entrepreneur. You started your own T-shirt company and are in the process of launching your own headphones, right?
MC: “Yeah, My Christian T was our clothing line. Playing football was cool, and I was focused on being the best wide receiver ever. But I was asked what I wanted to do outside of football. I talked about T-shirts. I’ve always loved T-shirts. I would even get in trouble for wearing T-shirts on the plane. I set out to do that with high school friends. But none of us had experience selling T-shirts, so that was a problem. But we learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship. It did well, but when infrastructure is not solid, you implode. We grew, but we couldn’t support the growth. It was a learning process. Now, I’m part of a team that developed active, over the ear headphones. Imagine running, getting up and tumbling without the headphones going anywhere. That’s what we do. They’re called Livv. We want to give athletes the freedom to live their lives the way they should. It’s about doing your workout full speed without having your headphones moving around or falling off.”
EJ: Other than starting your own business, I’m sure one of the neatest off the field experiences you had was participating in Pros for Africa. Can you tell me a little bit about your time in Uganda?
MC: “Amazing. Those couple of weeks impacted my heart more than a lot of my life. Getting to see what we saw and how people engaged us was amazing. It was a mission trip, and we wanted to share love. For us, it was like God has loved us so much, so we just want to love people. They don’t have much materially, so we brought a ton of medical supplies and clothes. But at the end of the day, they served us. It was unbelievable. They were so solid from a relational standpoint. They don’t have a lot of stuff, but their relationships are awesome because of that. They don’t have a lot of distractions or a lot of competition between them. It was so genuine and pure. It was a beautiful experience.”
EJ: Now that your playing career is over, you’re starting to help out high school wide receivers at different camps. Are you enjoying it so far?
MC: “Yeah, it has always been a passion for me to work with young men, especially at the middle school and high school level. Retiring in 2012 and now moving back to Texas, I knew I had to get involved and be a part of it. I wanted to see what I could do as a teacher and a coach, and this has been a really awesome platform for me to jump start something that I’m really passionate about.”
EJ Holland is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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