What does future hold for fabled Notre Dame freshman WR Chase Claypool?
Here’s a tall tale to dust off at sleepovers and bonfires.
Once upon a time, there was a football player so dominant that a single position couldn’t contain him. When he caught passes, he scored. When he took hand offs, he scored. When he threw passes, somebody else scored. The points piled up, the wins blended together and the records shattered like clay pigeons at a gun range.
He was taller, stronger and faster than his competition. On defense, he rotated between safety, outside linebacker and defensive end, chasing ball carriers with the relentlessness of a bird dog on the scent. When the team’s punter suffered an injury, he took his place.
But he rarely punted.
“When he was back there, he was a threat,” recalled the player’s coach, Jay Fujimura. “If they didn’t stay home and bailed out to help set up some sort of return, he would take off and run. He got a touchdown that way. He got a 40-yard first down another time.
“He was an OK punter, but they (opponents) never had a return, because they would never send anyone back for a return. They’d always stay home and play defense, just because he was back there.”
The player made an impact as a punt returner, even when he didn’t touch the ball.
“A couple times he was pretty gassed and tired and hurt, and we just said, ‘You know what, they’re never going to kick to you anyways. So just go out and stand there for a punt return,’” Fujimura said. “He would, and as soon as he did that they would kick it out of bounds short and we would get great field position.”
The thing about this particular tall tale, though, is that it isn’t one. Chase Claypool is real, even if his backstory appears fantastical.
As a senior at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Notre Dame’s freshman wide receiver really did catch 58 passes for 1,473 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging a staggering 25.4 yards per catch. He really did run for 567 yards and eight touchdowns, churning his legs for 12.1 yards per carry. He really did complete 6 of 8 passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns, just as he returned two punts and a kickoff for scores.
On defense, he added 74 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and five interceptions. Seriously. Not joking. Look it up.
Even before Claypool officially became Notre Dame’s first Canadian signee since Bill Mitoulas in 1994, the stories drifted south across the border, each hardly believable but stunningly, almost incomprehensibly true.
“He's averaging 49.2 points per game in basketball, so Mike Brey couldn't get him. I went and got him for Mike, so he's really a basketball player. He doesn't play football. But Mike has promised me to get a football player,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly joked on signing day in February.
“He's a heck of a…have you watched his basketball highlights? They're pretty good. He's an extraordinary kid.”
But how will extraordinary translate at Notre Dame?
That’s the question Kelly and Co. intend to answer in fall camp, as the 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver — for now — experiences his first dose of elite American football. There’s no doubt that in Canada, the athletically superior Claypool fed on largely inferior competition. As he grew, so did his local legend.
But what position will he play at Notre Dame? And how good can he be?
“Honestly, if you asked him, he’d be willing to play anywhere. He just wants to play,” Fujimura said. “Other schools wanted him in different places. When Oregon wanted him, they wanted him for outside linebacker. LSU talked to him about receiver. Every school had a different thing in mind for him.”
“He's an intriguing player, obviously,” Kelly added. “We're committed to giving him a look on offense. We want to see what he can do. The W (wide receiver) position is one that's requiring somebody to step up.
“We want to see what Equanimeous (St. Brown) certainly can do, Miles (Boykin), what he can do. Chase will be in the mix there as well.”
And if he doesn’t mesh at wide receiver, the Irish coaches will find room for Claypool somewhere else. That’s what they did with C.J. Prosise, who signed as a defensive back, flipped to wide receiver and then settled at running back, where he rushed for 1,032 yards last season and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. Same with James Onwualu, who arrived as a wide receiver and is now the team’s most proven returning linebacker.
Claypool’s position may be fluid, but his physical attributes are hard to ignore.
“One game we had him at quarterback and he was running and throwing,” Fujimura said. “He threw two touchdowns. He can do it all. He’s a threat wherever he is.”
Notre Dame’s all set at quarterback, but beyond that fact, Claypool’s future is loaded with possibilities and light on limitations. Maybe he’ll find his footing at wide receiver, developing into an immediate red zone threat this fall in his freshman season. Maybe he’ll continue to add height and weight, transforming into a dual threat tight end and matchup nightmare. Maybe he’ll switch sides, like Onwualu, and morph into the quarterback-chasing outside linebacker that the Irish desperately need.
In high school, he was all of those things — equal parts man and myth.
Now it’s his coaches’ job to separate fact from fiction.
“In our camp, we'll have to structure it to give all of these young players, corners and receivers, the opportunity to go out and compete and make some of those evaluations, and make some decisions (on what to) do with them,” Kelly said. “He's certainly a guy we've got our eyes on.”