By R. Alan Richardson
The list of special athletes that have attended Morgan County and made their mark in their chosen sport(s) is long and storied. Starting in the late 1940’s, the legendary record of these elite players’ lives on in the memory of players, coaches, and fans.
This week’s featured athlete is running back and outfielder William Clayton, nominated by classmate Jeff Hood. Clayton ran roughshod over opponents in his senior season of 1983 with Wayne Bradshaw at the helm of the Bulldog football program. The only losses that season to mar their record came at the hands of Lincoln County (twice) and a heart-stopping 32-30 defeat by Greene County. It was a season that many fans recall as the William Clayton show. His tendency to rip off long runs from scrimmage and on punt and kickoff returns, many of which resulted in touchdowns, was renowned.
Here’s a short rundown of some of his most crucial runs according to the Morgan County Citizen archives and Alvin Richardson’s book, “It’s a Dawg’s Life”. In the opening game against Oconee County Clayton had a punt return of 88 yards and a kickoff return of 93 yards that both resulted in touchdowns in a 14-10 win. He ran for 77 yards on nine carries in the second game against Monroe in a 20-0 victory. Clayton went for 159 yards against the War Eagles of Putnam County in the 33-19 battle. He then added 84 yards vs. Harlem and kicked all three extra points. Against Aquinas in the sixth game the running back was given accolades for his defensive play at linebacker by defensive coordinator Steve Cisson. The Greene County game of 1983 is possibly the most exciting game in the storied history of the two programs. Clayton and Seed Miller of Greene put on a show that night that few will ever forget. Miller’s 54 yard scamper was quickly outdone by Clayton on a 76 yarder. Miller countered with a run of 77 yards on the ensuing kickoff. After the dust settled, there was still six minutes left in the game. The star running back went for a huge 77 yard run against Washington-Wilkes in route to a total of 173 yards. Clayton followed that up with a punt return of 66 yards in the final regular season contest before the Dogs fell to Lincoln in the first round of the region playoffs.
Clayton, now 52, works for the City of Monroe (14 years) and lives in Covington. He grew up in Morgan County, but calls his home Rutledge where he was raised by parents Willie and Lizzie Mae Clayton. Clayton says he got started playing football under Coach Danny Gabriel at Morgan County Middle School in the sixth grade. When asked how his love for the game started, he said, “Actually, I didn’t like watching live football games, but I loved watching the highlights and slow motion replays of running backs like Earl Campbell and Walter Payton. Football just stuck in me after that. From there I patterned my running style after those two guys because they would run over you and outrun you. I guess we were similar. My legs were big and strong for a high school player at that time at 5’10” and 182 pounds. It was funny that the fastest time I ever recorded in the 40 was a 4.6, but I had another gear when it came to game speed. I was fast enough not to get caught,” he laughed.
Clayton was an outstanding baseball prospect as well. His outfield speed and natural ability to get a great jump on fly balls along with a cannon arm made him an all-star on the diamond beginning at a young age. He was also a demon at the plate winning best offensive player with the highest batting average three times for the Dogs. To top that off he was also a member of the 4×100 and 4×400 track relay teams his senior year.
So what are you doing now, he was asked. “I may play a little softball every now and then, but I mostly enjoy being a part of my gospel ministry. Our group is called ‘William Clayton and the Redeemed.’ We’ve put out two CD’s and performed in so many states, I couldn’t name them all. Several radio stations in and out of Georgia have us on pretty regularly. WCON in Cornelia plays our music a lot. My personal favorites are ‘I can’t even walk without holding your hand’ and ‘Be with me Jesus’. Sam Cook made that one famous. It’s a reminder to the Lord to be with me in my dying hour.”
During his seven years of playing organized football, Clayton recalled a couple of games that stand out to him today. “The Greene County game that we lost 32-30 and beating Oconee County still stick in my mind. I had some great runs in both of those.” He also talked about some of the tough games saying, “The hardest hitting team I played against was Lincoln County. Those boys hit like semipros. I came away from those two games knowing I took some hard licks.”
The multi-talented athlete had to give some thanks to some who made a huge impact on his life. “I’d have to say that my older brother, Troy Lee Clayton, taught me never to give up. I saw him during the Middle School Championship game take the ball 99 yards when we were down to give us the victory. He didn’t know how to lose. We competed against one another from an early age and he always impressed me. We were both good athletes.
Coach Bray was one of my 10th grade football coaches. He encouraged me when things were down and promised to try and get me into school somewhere. I felt a father’s love from him, but he knew I had some problems with my temper so he tried to help showing me some real love. It’s easy to really put out for a coach that you know loves you.”
After high school, Clayton was recruited by Coach Hightower at Georgia Southwestern in Americus. He made both the baseball and football teams. Things didn’t pan out for him at the college level, however, and, in his own words, “That was that.”
Clayton continued his series of thank you shout outs saying, “Some of my best friends on the team were Kenneth Lewis, Tony Williams, Fred Mills, James Adams, Jim Boyd, Lenwood Peoples, and Ricky Smith. If I forgot anybody charge it to my mind and not my heart. Thanks to the coaching staff, for pouring their hearts into me and teachers that taught me, so many great ones. I could be a handful in the classroom.
The coaches got mad at me before the Lincoln game during practice for playing around. I remember Coach Cisson got so mad at me. He told everybody to go to the goalline. I can’t get nothing through his head. I know now I was being distracting. I wasn’t being rude, just being a clown and it was a little too much. I’ll tell you this though. When it came crunch time I was focused and listened to the coaches whether it was baseball or football. They had my undivided attention on game night. When it was time to get serious and time to get down, they didn’t have to plead with us. Our boot straps were tied up and we didn’t even think about losing. I did not like to lose!”
His final thought was this. “There are so many great athletes that have come through Morgan County. The younger kids have no idea that they are rubbing shoulders with greatness every Friday night. I mean these guys are living icons that they need to remember and appreciate.”
Coach Steve Cisson was Clayton’s defensive coordinator and baseball coach. He said, “William was one of those kids that didn’t want to come off the field. He was a unique combination of fullback and linebacker. He’d make a 70-yard run and turn right around and be ready to go back on defense. I don’t remember if we ever got a 40-yard dash time on him but he was fast. I saw him outrun one of the fastest players that we ever saw (Seed Miller from Greene County) on a breakaway run. I never saw him get caught from behind. He was flat-out good and really special as an athlete on the football and baseball field. You sure wanted him on your side on Friday night. Our wing-T offense featured William at fullback on traps, option plays, and off-tackle stuff and he took full advantage of it. He was one of the most confident players I’ve ever coached in his own ability. He thought he could do anything and he usually did. I remember giving him the bunt sign in a game one night, and he just threw up his hands like he always did when he was frustrated. I called timeout and he said, “Coach, you can’t give me the bunt. I promise you I’ll get a base hit. He promptly hit one into the gap. William was just one of those players who believed in himself. I think the thing I’m most proud of is the good man he’s become. We are now good friends who sometimes go to football or basketball games together.”
If you have a player you would like to nominate for Morgan’s Finest, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org