Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Wisconsin running back John Clay

Daily Sports Editor
Published November 16, 2010

Wisconsin junior running back John Clay ran for more than 1,500 yards his sophomore season and the 6-foot-1, 255-pound runner has split time with two younger backs this season for the Badgers.

But he's still the big man in the backfield — just like Ron Dayne used to be. On Saturday in the Big House, the Wolverines face a huge challenge in shutting him down.

At Big Ten Media Day in August, Clay sat down with the Daily to talk about the upcoming season.

The Michigan Daily:You are the defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, but you weren’t picked to win the award again in the preseason, do you use that as motivation?

John Clay: Everybody has their own opinion. I just have to go back out there and prove it again, like I did this past season. Having an excellent offensive line coming back, seven different starters coming back. Got a lot of skill guys coming back. The sky’s the limit for this offense and for me.

TMD: Is there more confidence on offense having your starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien, coming back for the first time in a while?

JC: It feels great having Scott coming back, just knowing what he’s all about. He’s like a perfectionist. He wants to make sure everything’s right. You can’t fault a guy for wanting that. It just motivates you to be on the same page as him.

TMD: What was it like splitting carries with P.J. Hill two years ago?

JC: It was good. Just being able to see what goes on in a game, it was my first year playing. It felt good, being able to follow behind him just because he’s been through it .

TMD: Since you got to Wisconsin, have things gone the way you thought they might? Playing behind P.J. and now shining?

JC: Yeah, I’m getting better every year. I’m putting up good numbers and trying to be the complete back that I wanted to be.

TMD: You had a lot of carries in 2009, do you ever worry about wearing down, especially going on to the next level in the NFL?

JC: No, that just shows what kind of offense we have. Just a run-happy offense, and being that back able to take them hits and everything. I’m fine with it. I just monitor myself and the coaching staff monitors me during practice so I don’t have to take so many reps and so that I’m safe for the game.

TMD: You’re a big bruising back, but do you like to run guys over and then away from them?

JC: I like to build it up, running people over. I know they think I’m going to run them over again. I hopefully surprise them with a move then break away from them.

TMD: The Big Ten has been moving toward more teams running the spread offense, but Wisconsin’s still keeping true to its pro style. What do you think of that?

JC: We know what kind of success we’ve had with running the ball. And we know what kind of offense we are. We look forward to making the run game first and then setting up our passing game. Then when they like to load the box on us, that’s when our skill players come in with the wide receivers and the tight ends.

TMD: In the offseason, you had surgery to relieve pain in each of your ankles. What was the result of that?

JC: Right after I woke up from my anesthesia, I felt a big difference with pressure released off my ankles. I was just so excited about playing without pain for the first time. I had (my left) done right after the bowl game and (my right) in the middle of the week in April. I’m feeling pretty good right now.

TMD: You guys have high expectations this year, how do you think you can live up to them?

JC: Not staying too focused on all of it. We’ve got to make sure we take it a game at a time. Start with practice first, make sure we know what we’re doing in practice. And then when game time comes around, that’s when we got to be able to put out what we did in practice.

TMD: Did you sit down with coach Bielema and talk about this year and the expectations on you and maybe how to deal with them?

JC: Yeah I met with him and just talked about what all is going to come this year, all of the different awards and different pressures from the outside media world. Just making sure I’m focused and nothing comes at me bombarding, so I know what to be prepared for. I was mostly listening, just trying to pick his brain. He’s been around; he knows what goes on and what happens.

TMD: Have you talked to Ron Dayne or anyone else about being in the spotlight?

JC: Yeah a little bit. He just said you have to give everything to your offensive linemen, because without them, you wouldn’t be anything.

TMD: You’re from Wisconsin. Did you grow up watching Ron Dayne?

JC: A little bit. I really wasn’t into college football when I was younger. I was mostly into the NFL. I used to watch tapes on Jim Brown when I was younger. That’s why I wear the No. 32, for him. I just like his running style and what he brought to the game.