It takes a little while, but Elijah Clay finally starts to warm up.
Not to play a game. The season's long been over, but that doesn't mean Clay couldn't go right now. The 6-1, 260-pound lineman is always ready to hit for Ardmore. He's been that way for three years, rarely taking off a down whether it's on offense or defense.
But, Clay does have to warm up to the interview. Eventually, the All-Ardmoreite Defensive Player of the Year gets more and more talkative on a Saturday morning at Ardmore High School.
What can he say? He's used to his play doing the talking.
"It means a lot," Clay said of being named Defensive Player of the Year. "It means I came out and did what I had to do."
For the second consecutive year, Clay defied standard measures of defensive line play. After a junior year in which he had more than 100 tackles, Clay registered 90 tackles (55 solo) and three sacks as a senior, high takedown numbers for a defensive lineman in Ardmore's 3-4. He was also tied for second on the team with 11 tackles for loss, showcasing his ability to penetrate into opposing backfields and beat his man, and sometimes even two blockers.
Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel said Clay's tackle numbers mean that he's simply a dominant defensive lineman.
"You could see people had to change their blocking schemes up and run away from him," Wendel said. " Duncan, the whole second half, ran opposite his side. We flipped him and they ran to the other side, so people had to gameplan around somebody like that. He's a game-changing type of player."
Wendel also said Clay is one of the strongest linemen he's ever coached. Clay said his strength lies in ... well, his strength.
"Strength and being physical," Clay said about what makes him a good defensive lineman. "I felt I had a lot of responsibility to step up, to be a leader on the team."
Another strength Clay failed to mention was his conditioning. A two-year defensive starter entering this season, Clay started on both sides of the ball for the first time this season. He was one of maybe a handful of Tigers who started on both offense and defense, on a team that returned only two or three full-time starters from the 2011 state semifinalist squad.
Clay was one of those returning starters, and Wendel was grateful that he could count on his senior to lead on both sides of the ball. Wendel said Clay played every down on both sides of the ball minus the second half against Capitol Hill and a series against Durant.
That includes playing against Duncan on a balky ankle coaches suggested he not play on.
Page 2 of 2 - "This was his first year to play offense, but he's probably the best defensive lineman I've been around," Wendel said. "I've been around some good ones, but for one to come in his senior year and play every down of offense ... most kids that play that many downs are looking for a way off the field, especially when you play that many downs, you weigh that much and it's physical.
"He's been steadfast in our program and done everything we've asked of him."
His size, strength and durability combination has atracted the interest of schools such as Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma Baptist, Northeastern Oklahoma State and East Central, among others. When asked how he would describe Clay to potential colleges, Wendel didn't have to think long.
"They're gonna get somebody that probably hasn't reached his full potential yet," Wendel said. "I think he can get stronger. I think there are technique things he can get better on once he can focus on one position. I think he'll be someone who can step on the field and you get three years of quality play out of him."
When asked to decribe himself to potential suitors, Clay's answer was even shorter.
"Physicality, toughness and speed at the position," he said.
He's a man of action. If he was to write an essay on himself, it would be a series of game films. No word counts needed.
The A+ essay would consist of sacks instead of sentences, attacking a gap instead of a long diatribe about how it's done.
In his perfect world, Clay's answer would end with a tackle in the backfield, playing football all day and all night.
No words can substitute for that.
"My first goal was to start varsity," Clay said modestly of what he wanted to accomplish entering high school. "My second was to play every down I could play."
Erik K. Horne