MORGANTOWN - When Cody Clay arrived at West Virginia University last summer and was given his orders for how to begin his career with the Mountaineers, he discovered he could eat whatever he wanted."Steak, lots of eggs, anything with protein," said the redshirt freshmen from George Washington High School. "I was eating more ice cream at that point, as much as I wanted, because that's what they told me. That was nice."Clay was a 6 foot, 3 inch, 260-pound tight end who had caught 27 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns in 2010 as he led the Patriots to the top seed in the Class AAA state playoffs.Yet at WVU, there was an offense that had no room for a tight end. Clay started preseason camp as an inside receiver and impressed coaches enough as a blocker that he was asked to move to center - and gain 30 or so pounds.
He wound up as the scout team's offensive player of the year, though as a tight end playing the role of the opponent's tight end."I ate a lot, but I don't know what happened," Clay said. "I just couldn't gain the weight I needed to. I thought it would be easy, but I tried."The coaches had seen Clay's size and frame and figured he could grow into an interior lineman, but they also knew some of those experiments just don't work because some players can't gain weight.At WVU, where the team always is working on strength and conditioning, it can be especially difficult. Clay was eating a lot, but working out the required amount for a player scheduled to redshirt made it hard to pack on pounds. Nothing outside of a lengthy couch potato sabbatical was going to fix that.
"If that was an option, I'm sure I would have taken it," he said.He remembers gaining only 4 or 5 pounds before the Mountaineers came upon the first open week in their schedule. The team had some self-scout scrimmages with the offense going against the defense. Clay was asked to play inside receiver against the defense."I guess I did it pretty well because they told me to stay there," Clay said. "When the second one came around, I just did it again."He wasn't upset or even confused because playing at WVU had long been his dream and he was willing to do, or to eat, anything to make it happen. Yet he realized early on making the move to the offensive line was going to take time.
As he struggled to gain the weight and understood it would be even longer until he could adjust to his expanding frame, he figured the transition there would take more time than it would to become an inside receiver.And Clay always fancied himself a skill position player."I just love being a receiver," he said. "When you catch the ball exactly the right way and it feels right, it's total satisfaction."
Clay has been a pass catcher for the entirety of his first spring practice with the Mountaineers, but not exclusively as an inside receiver.He said WVU has introduced some tight end features in the offense when he lines up next to the tackle and puts his hand on the ground to again take advantage of one of his strengths,"I've been doing a lot of blocking," he said.Clay weighs about 250 pounds now and though he said he hasn't been told to get up or down to a certain number, he said he's trying to drop some pounds to better adjust to playing inside receive.He's not far from where he needs to be and he knows his size helps."I call it an advantage personally," he said. "I like to hit people and when you weigh 70 more pounds than any cornerback coming at you, that makes it a little bit easier. Obviously, I'm not as fast as Tavon Austin, so it has disadvantages as well."
The Mountaineers have a need inside, where Austin is the only returning scholarship player. Senior J.D. Woods has played a lot in his career, but never on the inside, where he has made great strides this spring. Freshman Jordan Thompson continues to make plays just four months after enrolling.Then there's Clay, who is a bigger target and a bigger blocker than any of them. Truth be told, playing as a receiver and lining up away from the line of scrimmage isn't much of a change."I actually split out a lot in high school," he said. "It's not that much different because our inside receivers do a lot more blocking, which isn't a problem for me playing as much as I do. I'm not bad at that, but whatever they need me for, if blocking is it, then so be it."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com
or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.