A man sporting a polo and matching ballcap approached Roman Clay (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Catholic) after the season's first game. The senior tailback stood near the sideline, unaware he just made history.
You know how many yards you rushed for? Clay shook his head. 442 yards.
"The first words out of my mouth were, are you sure? Did you count that right?" Clay said with a laugh.
Clay, unranked by RecruitingNation, soon d3iscovered those stats were accurate, and college coaches quickly found Clay's mailing address. Through three games he has 753 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and has averaged close to 12 yards a carry. The mailman has started dropping off more coaches' letters as a result.
The recruitment of the 5-foot-11, 209-pound tailback seriously began in April, but more college coaches are ringing Lancaster Catholic after every game. Clay doesn't know all the coaches who have visited -- his coach likes to limit his exposure to that pressure -- but he knows several have watched him take handoffs from those bleachers.
"I know I need to come out and play every game like it's the biggest in my life," Clay said. "I know my future's on the line."
He holds offers from Massachusetts and Kent State, but those bigger schools are finding it harder to ignore a a player who rushed for the fifth-highest single-game total in Pennsylvania history. Clay speaks with Penn State assistant Charles London every week, and London's told him something other coaches have echoed: We want to see how you fare against bigger competition. Then the offers might come.
Clay rushed for more than 1,500 yards in back-to-back seasons, but his Lancaster Catholic team competed in a lower class of football. This fall, the team moved up to the state's second-highest classification -- and Clay's numbers haven't dipped. They've only improved.
The high school senior says he'll stand on the sideline during games and reflect on how important the next series is for his college future. He'll daydream about it on the weekends. He'll think about it before games.
"Yeah, I guess it is a little more pressure," Clay said. "But I do my best work when I'm under pressure."
Pittsburgh has also tried wooing Clay, as have several FCS schools. Clay set up an official visit to Delaware on Oct. 6 but has no other future visits scheduled. He plans to attend a Penn State game, but is still deciding between the Ohio State or Wisconsin matchup.
The tailback last visited Penn State in April and said he wasn't bothered by the sanctions. He grew up rooting for Texas and Clemson -- he loves Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller -- but said his dream is to simply play for a big school.
"PSU called me not too long ago," his coach, Bruce Harbach, said. "And, I told them, you can't let this kid get away. I coached for 35 years, and he's probably the best running back I've ever coached."