Clay makes most of his switch to fullback
AUSTIN, Texas - Cody Clay remembers the confusion well.
He'd finally made his way to West Virginia, fulfilling a life-long dream of being recruited by the Mountaineers. After a making his mark as a tight end at George Washington, he was asked to come to Morgantown and play the same position.
He wasn't asked, though, by the same coaches who greeted him when he arrived. Instead of Bill Stewart and Jeff Mullen, it was Dana Holgorsen and Shannon Dawson. He was a 6-foot-5 tight end in an offense that didn't use a tight end.
Instead, he would become one of Dawson's slot receivers.
"The first time I met Coach Dawson he told me, 'I don't know what to do with you. I've never had a guy your size,' '' Clay recalled.
Well, it took a bit more than a year, several moves and a whole bunch of extenuating circumstances, but Clay seems to have found his spot, although it seems just as incongruous as a 6-foot-5 slot receiver.
Now he's a 6-5 fullback.
"I'm just glad I can play at all. It didn't matter where,'' Clay said. "Last year they even had me at offensive line a little bit. I feel like I finally fit in.''
Last week against Baylor, Clay played more than almost anyone - even he - expected. He was on the field for roughly half of the offensive plays in a 70-63 win over Baylor. He figures to be there some tonight, too, when No. 8 West Virginia faces No. 11 Texas at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
"I'm still recovering,'' Clay said. "It's been a while since I played that much in a game.''
Clay is playing both out of necessity and accomplishment. The necessity was created last week when both the team's regular fullbacks, Ryan Clarke and Donovan Miles, missed the Baylor game with injuries. Clay had played some in a three-back formation - usually along with Clarke and one of the team's tailbacks - but nothing approaching this level of activity.
But he's also playing because he's been successful. West Virginia needs a blocking back to both pave the way for tailbacks and block for quarterback Geno Smith. Clay has done both well.
"I'm really proud of that kid,'' Holgorsen said. "We didn't know what he was going to do when we recruited him. The kid is playing well. He loves his role, whether it's tight end or special teams. He's doing a great job. Ryan and Donovan were out with injuries and he stepped up and played 45 snaps on offense at a pretty high level. He had a lot to do with springing [Andrew] Buie for a lot of those runs.
"He's a very consistent guy and he's a hard worker. He loves his role and understands his role.''
That his role now is as a fullback, though, is rather surprising. He actually played the position most of his life before becoming a tight end at George Washington.
"I always figured that would be where I'd play college football,'' Clay said. "But then I didn't stop growing.''
He does still play some tight end. In fact, he's become valuable as an offensive weapon, even though he doesn't touch the ball. If he's in the game as a fullback, he can switch to tight end or slot receiver and the Mountaineers are essentially in a new personnel grouping without substituting.
"Being able to get into the different sets with the same personnel drives defensive coordinators crazy,'' Holgorsen said. "But we're not going to put guys in there that are unable to fill a role. He can run and catch. He's not very fluid at it, but he can get the job done. And he does a great job of blocking on the perimeter.''
That Clay hasn't - and most likely won't - touch the football is of very little concern to him.
"We've got enough weapons - Tavon [Austin], Stedman [Bailey], Buie. Why would you need to use me?'' Clay said. "I'm fine with helping them out rather than making a fool out of myself.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.