February 3, 2005

Antonio Clay: I never meant to hurt anyone

He seemed all over the place during the recruiting process and was committed to Oklahoma, Florida State, Clemson and Miami at different times.

If that's not enough, he was committed on two different occasions to the Sooners and possibly to the Hurricanes and Seminoles at the same time. Most outside oberservers viewed the situation as another case of a recruit playing games with his suitors.

Guess again.

A deeper look into the recruitment of Jefferson (Ga.) Twiggs County linebacker Antonio Clay reveals that there was very little fun involved in the recruiting process.

"This was the hardest decision that I have ever had to make," Clay said. "I think it was my relationship with the coaches at these schools that made it so hard. You didn't want to tell any of those guys no. When I had to call coach (Bo) Pellini at Oklahoma the night before signing day and tell him that I wasn't coming, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

Clay said each of the programs he committed to at one point had their own advantages.

"They all had great programs," Clay said. "At Florida State they already had Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson and then they also signed Eugene Hayes and Derek Nicholson. I could have learned a lot from those guys, but when I was at Florida State, I just felt like another top linebacker.

"Miami was a really great school, and I was tempted to go there, but it wasn't for me. I had a lot of people and a lot of pressure trying to get me to go to Georgia, but it just wasn't the right fit either. I really thought hard about Oklahoma, and I wanted to go there pretty bad. They were my favorite most of the time, but in the end it just didn't work out."

In the end, Clemson just was too good of a situation for Clay to pass up.

"I sat down with my family on Monday night and we talked about a lot of things," Clay said. "I wanted them to be able to come and see me play every week, and at Clemson they had that opportunity. When I looked at the depth chart of all of these schools, Clemson's looked the best for me. Playing for Clemson gives me the chance to play in one of the best conferences in the country as well."

Clay went on to say that while he is happy with his decision to be a Clemson Tiger, he is going to be leaving some good friends behind.

"Coach (Charlie) Harbinson at Alabama is a guy that will be a friend for life," Clay said.

"I looked at Alabama real hard, a lot harder than people realize, and I really wanted to go there at one point. I really trusted him. Coach (Tom) Brattan at Maryland is a guy that I feel the same way about. I want to say to those guys thank you for recruiting me, and I know they will be there as a friend if I ever need them."

One thing that every top recruit feels is pressure, but Clay may have had a more difficult time with it than most.

"I had people calling me house that I didn't even know," Clay said. "These were fans. I never minded Rivals calling or any coaches, but when fans called I thought that was a little much. A lot of people around here wanted me to go to Georgia, and then you had all these coaches from these schools talking to you and it was just really hard."

The day before signing day Clay was committed to Oklahoma, but the Sooners lost him to Clemson a mere 16 hours before he was to sign.

"In the end Clemson was the best fit," Clay said. "I wanted to play early and I wanted my family to be able to see me play, and the opportunity there was best for that. Telling Oklahoma that I was coming and then having to back out on them was so hard, and I want them all to know that I will always have a place in my heart for that program. None of it was ever meant to hurt anyone, I was just confused and it took me a long time to figure things out."

Clay pretty much summed up the recruiting process of a prized recruit with one statement.

"During this whole thing you meet a lot of people," Clay said. "Some of them are there to help you and others want to take advantage of you. Through all of this recruiting process you find out who your real friends are and who you can trust."



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