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Now More Comfortable, Clayton Ready To Run For Buffaloes

Apr 12, 2021
Ashaad Clayton could be a big factor in Buffs running game this year.

BOULDER — Colorado freshman running back Ashaad Clayton admits his first year with the Buffaloes didn't always go smoothly.

"It was a humbling experience," the four-star recruit from Louisiana told the media Monday. "The transition from being the top guy to basically starting from square one … I kind of got down a little but I just stayed the course and worked my tail off, learned the playbook and just developed."

Clayton's first season in Boulder — his "Covid freshman year" — no doubt presented a long list of obstacles. There were the normal transition issues faced by many college freshmen, including a dose of homesickness, as well as the postponed/canceled/delayed season that played havoc with the entire CU team.

But through it all, Clayton had his mother and grandmother as a support system — as well as CU running backs coach Darian Hagan, who could identify with many of the issues Clayton faced.

"Hagan's like a father figure I never had," Clayton said. "He always says we grew up a lot alike. We've developed a relationship … Every time he talks I take in his knowledge."

Hagan can indeed identify with Clayton's circumstances. A highly recruited quarterback from California in the Bill McCartney era, he played sparingly as a freshman before bursting onto the scene as a sophomore.

"He was always telling me, 'Your time is coming,'" Clayton said. "Sooner or later, my time did come in the Arizona game."

Thanks in large part to an outstanding season from Jarek Broussard, Clayton's playing time was limited in CU's five-game regular season schedule last fall. He appeared in just three games and registered just seven carries for 31 yards — but four of those carries came against Arizona, when he ran for 24 yards and two touchdowns.

 "That kind of boosted my confidence," Clayton said. "Hagan is a legend and I Iisten."

But when the regular season was over, he opted not to participate in CU's Alamo Bowl appearance. He went back home to New Orleans, where he grew up living with his mother and grandmother — and there decided to make sure his first spring football session with the Buffs would be a strong one when he returned to Boulder.

"I had to go back and regain myself and remind myself where I came from," he said. "I went home, worked with my trainer, talked to my mom, my Grams."

And what did his grandmother tell him?

To stay in Boulder because that's where he belonged.

"I can't disrespect Grams," Clayton said with a chuckle. "When I came back in the spring, Boulder started to feel more like a second home to me … I just had to mature and humble myself. CU is the place for me. I know that God led me here for a reason. I just had to stay the course and mature in my ways. I just couldn't be rebellious against everything."

Clayton is no doubt starting to feel far more comfortable on the field. He is now familiar with the playbook and is making a strong case for more playing time next fall — even with the return of Broussard and Alex Fontenot.

"He's having a really good spring practice session," head coach Karl Dorrell said. "He's grown quite a bit, even from what he was in the fall to where he is now. He's really starting to get to a comfort level being here in Boulder, being on this team with these coaches and these players. He feels he's got a good niche that he feels comfortable now. I'm very very pleased with what he's been doing the last couple of weeks."

Clayton's growth could give the Buffs one of the most potent backfields in the Pac-12 — and Dorrell clearly expects the freshman to play a role in that process.

"I would expect he's going to be a big factor in what we're doing, even though we have a really good backfield with Jarek and Alex," Dorrell said. "We're going to have so much more quality depth this year compared to where we were a year ago. Him being part of that is going to surprise some people."

Clayton no doubt is anxious to play a bigger role — but he's also learned a little about patience over the last year.

As Hagan has told him — his time will come.

"Everything is falling into place, slowly but surely," Clayton said. "I'm just trusting the process."

GOOD MONDAY PRACTICE: Just a week ago, Dorrell was less than pleased with his team's focus from the beginning to the end of a Monday practice.

But this week, the Buffs showed up ready to roll — and kept up the pace the entire workout.

"We really had a solid start to the week," Dorrell said Monday evening. "I feel like this team is really starting to grasp some concepts and the things we're trying to preach to get these things as part of our core on offense and defense and special teams … I think we're growing up a little bit."

The workout was a positive sign far beyond "just" a good practice. 

"At the end of practice, we talked to them a bit about, 'Men, if you keep practicing like that, there's not much that's going to be able to stop us,'" Dorrell said. "If we can just put strings of practices together that we're getting better every day and you hold yourself to a high standard, there won't be a lot of teams that can get us this year if we continue with that between now and through the summer going into training camp. I think they're understanding that picture more because they're seeing it, they're seeing the execution. They're living it and seeing it and doing it and the lightbulb is starting to shine just a little bit brighter."

TON OF TIGHT ENDS: CU's current roster has 12 players listed at tight end — a "luxury" Dorrell said the Buffs likely won't be able to maintain into fall camp.

"I don't think we'll be able to carry that many going into training camp given that our total number of players we can bring into camp is 120," Dorrell said. "With the new freshmen coming in, plus whoever else we're bringing in, we'll have to adjust that number accordingly. I don't know what that number will adjust to but it probably won't be 12."

Returning starter Brady Russell, who missed most of last season with an injury, had his most lengthy practice of the spring Monday, taking part in 7-on-7 drills as well as getting in a few snaps in the team sessions.

"We're trying to get him back where he's getting in the fold," Dorrell said. "He looked good. You could tell his presence was felt, him being one of our more experienced players."

Dorrell also said Matt Lynch continues to make plays, redshirt freshman Alec Pell (a converted linebacker) is progressing, as are Caleb Fauria and Erik Olsen.