MORGANTOWN — Cody Clay, the pride of Alum Creek and West Virginia’s H-back/fullback/tight end, got a kick out of the new Mountaineer jumbo backfield the other day.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen spoke about it Monday. Huntington native Elijah Wellman, 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, was at tailback during a practice. Clay, 6-4, 251, and Garrett Hope, 6-3, 245, were also in the backfield.
“All three of us,” Clay said Tuesday. “That was fun. We kind of slowly put it in.”
Then Clay ’fessed up. “We kinda snuck it in,” he said, “and it worked.”
In a way, the process describes Clay’s career. The former George Washington High standout was a lightly regarded recruit only offered by one power conference school: WVU. The Mountaineers sneaked him in, and it worked.
In last year’s Big 12 media day, Holgorsen said Clay “may be the best football player on our team.”
“By best I think he meant most versatile,” said the humble redshirt junior Tuesday.
Perhaps. But also call him productive.
Understand that Clay doesn’t have eye-popping stats. Last season he had no rushes and nine catches for 73 yards and a score. He had three catches against Oklahoma State. But he played in 13 games as a freshman and 12 as a sophomore.
In other words, Clay has played in every single WVU game since sitting out that redshirt season. He’s started in 15 (60 percent) of the 25.
“Even this morning I joked that not everyone can say they were a four-year starter,” Clay said. “It’s pretty neat. It’s good for my confidence. It’s something I’ve embraced.”
“I’ve been through pretty much every situation. Some of them have been pretty stressful. But I made it through and I’m sure that will help.”
It remains to be seen how Clay will be used this season. Quarterback Clint Trickett is back for his second year as a starter, but WVU also has a healthy stable of running backs.
“I’m not begging for catches,” Clay said. “I’ve always played that silent role. Whatever for the team. I’ll take whatever I can get.”
More than likely, again, he’ll be sneakily used. Last season against TCU, Clay lined up just behind left guard Quinton Spain. Instead of blocking straight ahead, though, Clay waited for Trickett to drop back and then crossed right into the flat. Trickett hit Clay with the pass and watched as the then-sophomore was cut at the legs by TCU linebacker Paul Dawson along the sideline. Instead of going down, though, Clay sprawled forward in the air, stretching the ball over the goal line — and Dawson’s helmet and chinstrap — for the score. The fourth-quarter TD gave the Mountaineers the lead in a game in which they’d record an overtime win on the road.
“I grew up watching WVU football,” Clay said. “I’ve seen every touchdown and hearing names like Owen Schmitt and Tavon Austin. Just to have my name called one time for a touchdown like them was pretty awesome for me.”
Clay said he’s been playing mostly tight end in this camp.
“I’m happy with the practices,” he said. “I feel I and the team have been doing better. We have more confidence, even the coaches.”
By the way, he, like Holgorsen, has taken notice of tailback Rushel Shell.
“He’s a really hard runner,” Clay said. “He’s naturally gifted, probably more than any in the room. He’s exciting to watch.”
One can hear the excitement in Clay’s voice. For one, he’s excited about the possibility of using that jumbo package.
“It makes me want to block harder,” he said. “It makes me ferocious.”
OK, but why does Wellman, not Clay, carry the ball?
“That’s what he’s more built for,” Clay said. “He’s more of a running back and I’m more of a tight end. Hopefully he gets carries and I get catches.”
Also, though, Clay is excited about WVU’s offense. In the spring, most agreed the Mountaineer defense had the upper hand on the offense. In this camp, Clay said that’s flipped.
“I’m pretty proud of the offense,” Clay said. “We’ve got some bragging rights. I don’t know what’s changed.”
He said Trickett “looks amazing” making plays and leading the unit.
As for WVU?
“I really think we’re going to surprise some people,” Clay said. “We’re playing with confidence.”
And maybe, just maybe, the Mountaineers, like Clay, will sneak up on teams.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.