College football coaches factor in a number of different characteristics when recruiting. For Southern Oregon’s Clay Sierra, experience wasn’t one of them.
“I’m a basketball player,” said Sierra. “So I did that in high school and they weren’t really big fans of playing both sports.”
Sierra didn’t want to play basketball in college, so after one high school season his senior year, he turned to football. All he needed was a suitor. It didn’t take much to convince the Raiders’ coaches that he was football material.
“He came up here and I saw a big, tall, strapping guy,” said head coach Craig Howard. “I didn’t know how good he’d be.”
At first, Howard didn’t know his position either. Sierra came in as a defensive end.
“I watched him play an intramural basketball game one day, and I was just goofing around,” said offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht. “I mean, he was a defensive player at first, and then I saw him 360 slam dunk a basketball above the rim, and I went, ‘we’re going to get him on offense.'”
Fasnacht not only stole Sierra from the defense but SOU feels like it stole him from some bigger schools.
“I think because he didn’t play football in his earlier career, he would have been Division I,” said Howard. “So it is a little bit of a secret about this guy last year.”
That secret wasn’t really revealed until the fifth game of the season. The coaches took their time with their athletic tight end because of his inexperience.
“Part of that was just him becoming a football player,” said Fasnacht. “It took him three or four weeks to understand what we wanted. He had all the talent in the world, but again, we had to limit his package so we didn’t overwhelm him.”
“Coaches knew that, and they only had a couple plays,” said Sierra. “I had my package that I knew, but I didn’t know everything.”
In fact, Sierra says he didn’t fully understand the playbook until this past spring. With combining that better understanding, the team expects big things from number 88 this season.
“As he did emerge, he wanted more on his plate and started being able to handle more,” said Fasnacht. “Now he’s chomping at the bit. ‘give me this, coach. Give me that.'”
“We’re doing a lot of stuff with him,” said Austin Dodge. “I’m not going to reveal any surprises, but he’ll be out there, and he’ll be in different parts of the field.”
“Absolutely without telling everybody in the world that if you know what I mean,” said Fasnacht.