Noie: Talent, traits align for Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND

Nowhere on the daily Notre Dame football practice plan distributed to those who need to know is time reserved for it to happen.

But it happens. Without fail. Whether down at Culver Academies for the season’s first five practices or back on campus, where the Irish worked in pads for the first time Thursday. It happens. Always.

Maybe it’s early in the session, say after the tempo drill when the first-string offense drives downfield in a hurried state of plays. Or later during 7-on-7. Or during special teams work. Could be late in the day, when the sun is up high and it’s good and hot across the practice fields.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly eventually finds his way to a certain wide receiver from British Columbia who wears No. 83. The exchange almost is always one-sided, one that true junior Chase Claypool comes to expect. To embrace.

Claypool used to dread it when he saw the head coach heading his way. That meant another lecture. Maybe harsh words. But with it, truth. Now he listens more closely to the message. It’s not an Irish practice until Kelly and Claypool have their heart-to-heart about the player’s performance. In the past, it was about Claypool not working as hard as Kelly had wanted or hoped or believed he could. Claypool often left a few ounces of effort — and potential big plays — strewn across the LaBar Practice Complex. A catch here. A block there. It usually occurred when the 6-foot-4, 227-pound Claypool couldn’t — or wouldn’t — fight through the fumes generated by two-plus hours of work. Maybe tomorrow or next week he’d go wire-to-wire with all-out effort. But not on this particular day. Or that one.

Those days are becoming fewer and further between for Claypool. The talks with Kelly still occur, and will again Friday, but the tone and the tenor have flipped. Now instead of Kelly questioning Claypool why he didn’t do this or finish that, the ninth-year Irish coach is pulling the receiver aside to reinforce that the kid’s on track toward something special.

“He’s said, ‘You have all the tools; you just have to use them,’” Claypool said of Kelly’s daily heart-to-hearts. “He’s said I’m doing a good job of that, so keep it up.”

Evidence of that arrived Thursday when Claypool was made available post-practice to meet the media. That media feeding frenzy generally doesn’t happen this early in fall camp unless you’re a captain or a senior or a leader. Or if the head coach is really pleased with your performance. Evidence of that first surfaced last week when the team was in Marshall County for the start of preseason practice.

Kelly has taken to Twitter to highlight a handful of guys — one on offense, one on defense, one on special teams — whose work catches his eye to the point where they earn player of the day recognition. On Friday, after the season’s first practice, Claypool was one of those guys whose effort and execution was as good the first period of practice as it was the last.

“He’s doing the things that we want him to do,” Kelly said. “He’s in a good place.”

Traits and talent

A good place, yes, but more importantly, a more consistent place. A place where good has a potential to be great. Claypool flashed some of that raw athleticism last season when he finished second on the squad with 29 receptions for 402 yards. But looking at him and his skills, you expected more. A lot more. Seldom did Claypool deliver it.

He’d be good for one series, OK the next, and average the third. Then rinse and repeat. Claypool had all the talent to make all the catches, except his lack of attention to detail kept holding him back. He was caught up with his talent that he forgot about the traits that take him from here (good) to here (really good).

Once Claypool married his athletic ability to doing everything right every single snap, watch out. The light was going to come on.

Looks like Claypool’s flipped the switch.

To do so, Claypool went back to that proverbial drawing board. He watched more film in the offseason. He made it a point to be as quick off the ball on the 31st snap from scrimmage as he was the first. He got his hands in the right place at the right time. He pushed through fatigue during the summer program and kept craving more reps.

Along the way, he learned to be a leader, someone the younger guys could look to when they got tired or bogged down with too many negative thoughts. Watch me, Claypool’s actions said, he’d show the way.

If that meant doing drills the right way the first time, he did them. If that meant pushing through near-exhaustion early in camp, he pushed through. If that meant staying after practices and catching more balls from quarterback Brandon Wimbush, he caught them.

On Thursday, Claypool and fellow wide receiver Miles Boykin huddled with the rest of the guys at the position for a post-practice pep talk. Claypool didn’t feel the execution level was where it needed to be coming off Wednesday’s day off. He and Boykin counseled their colleagues to be better. In previous years, Claypool would have headed right for the cold tub, concerned only that another day of practice was done. Not now.

The details matter. All of them.

“When the older guys leave, you become that older guy,” he said. “You have to realize that. I have this offseason. Being that old guy you can trust is really nice.”

So is being the guy that everyone expects to make a play. Knowing he’s a main guy has helped Claypool relax. Body and mind. He’s going to get chances. He’s going to make plays.

“I know that they trust me,” Claypool said.

He also can just play. He’s shown more than flashes. To his coach. To his teammates. They see the potential, see that this season might be one where he does more than scratch that surface. Claypool could be good. Really good. Elite good. Good enough to play on Sundays but not before doing some special stuff on Saturdays.

“If he just brings it every single play and focuses on just that one play, he could be the best player in the country,” said cornerback Julian Love. “He has all the tools.”

Informed of Love’s assessment, Claypool didn’t downplay it. Any of it. Best player in the country? Him? Here? Now? All right.

“I agree with that,” he said. “Just gotta make it happen.”

Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool has had a solid first week of preseason camp. If he can carry that effort into the regular season,m watch out.
Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) tries to get past Miami’s Shaquille Quarterman (55) during the Nov. 11 game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.