Coleby Clawson doesn't remember the playbook name of the perfect blitz, or what coach put it in, but it basically worked. Every time. At least enough to ruin a play, if not the quarterback's day.
"It's the one that overloads the right side of the line," the former BYU linebacker said. "The d-end kind of races my way. Our middle linebacker will blitz and take on the guard and that leaves me wide open."
|Clawson (41) suffered from diabetes and concussions during his BYU career. (Getty Images)|
"We ran it two plays before," Clawson remembered, "and I got a pretty good hit, harder than the injury one."
Oklahoma's Sam Bradford can tell you everything about the "the injury one." That blitz essentially ended his college career. Opening night in Arlington, Texas, against the Cougars, Bradford was rushed by Clawson, hurried the pass and turned sideways to absorb the hit. The defending Heisman Trophy winner's right shoulder was driven into the ground and was never the same that season. Neither were Oklahoma, the Big 12 and perhaps even the national championship race.
You know how half the story ended. Bradford sprained an ACL joint, reinjured the shoulder five weeks later, missed the remainder of the season and recovered nicely. You could find him this week in St. Louis at Rams offseason drills trying to prove his worth as the overall No. 1 pick in the draft.
Coleby? The junior college transfer from Wales, Utah, ended his two-year BYU career with nine career sacks. The injury to Bradford resulted from one of his 11 career hurries. He's now selling security alarms on commission in Billings, Mont. That's not as entry level as it might sound. It's an offseason job Clawson has been working for years now. He has traveled Oregon, Texas, even Oklahoma -- specifically the Norman/Oklahoma City area where he would later become famous, perhaps infamous, for that September hit on Bradford.
"It's kind of funny," Clawson said, "I got to know some people down there."
The plan is come back to BYU later this year, work with the Cougars' strength staff in the fall and eventually get his master's in exercise physiology. There is no guilt over Bradford's injury, just a nagging ache deep in his competitive psyche. It hurts not to be able to hit someone anymore forever. There was an option to play professionally -- agents were calling -- but Clawson didn't follow up. His wife, Breanna, and young daughter Chesni need him healthy.
Other athletes have played with diabetes. It requires discipline, a quality not unknown to football players. As an athlete, Clawson had to check his blood sugar levels eight times a day and inject himself with insulin before every meal.
"It got hard sometimes," he said, "because I was always trying to put on weight. How much insulin you take is a little unpredictable."
The concussions were just as unpredictable. Clawson estimates he has suffered a few of them. He would come to the sidelines disoriented or, even worse, be on the field in a fog. Trainers would hold him out of practice.
The good: "I never lost my memory or anything." The bad: In half his games in 2008, Clawson said he was "dizzy for an entire series."
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Concussions are a touchy subject all around. Most of the meaningful research is only 20 years old. The NFL has been criticized for its approach. It took until this year for players attending the combine to be given a baseline brain activity exam. BYU uses a similar exam for its players before the season, a spokesman said. Doctors said former Steelers great Mike Webster, who died in 2002, suffered cognitive dysfunction because of concussion damage to his frontal lobe during his career.
The NCAA has taken the lead. A summit last month ended with a recommendation that all schools have a "concussion management plan" on file. In December 2009, the NCAA reaffirmed that athletes with "significant [concussion] symptoms ... or difficulty with memory function should not be allowed to return to play during the same day."
"There were several games where I kind of got my bell rung and went on playing with it," Clawson said. "It happened a little bit easier with each one [head injury]. I never had to deal with that before ..."
So which is more tragic: Having your season derailed by a shoulder injury or enduring multiple blows to the head during a hard-hitting career? The shoulder was surgically repaired. History has shown us that head injuries can turn into qualify-of-life issues for an athlete years from now.
"The trainers would hold me out as long as they could," Clawson continued. "It's kind of stupid. I wouldn't tell them [I had been injured] because I wanted to play. ... They'd take my helmet away from me."
You wonder how many other Coleby Clawsons there are -- hard hitters motivated by the football culture to play through head injuries. Want-to isn't something the NCAA can track. All you can do is be glad a 25-year-old father got out at the right time for the right reason.
"It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done having to walk away from what I loved so much," Clawson said. "Me and my wife prayed about it for several months. Moving on with school and getting my education. Being around football, that's kind of all of my known. To quit cold turkey ..."
He doesn't finish the sentence. It's over now. Everything in terms of football. That night in Texas, any culpability over Bradford's shoulder and his career. During the postgame handshakes, Clawson sought out the Oklahoma quarterback, but they never made a connection.
That's how Clawson left it. That's how most of the college football public will remember him -- the guy who took out the Heisman winner/No. 1 draft choice.
"If I had ruined his career, it would have been different," Clawson said. "I guess it's kind of fun to be known as the guy who hit quarterbacks. I don't mind it either way. I'm glad it turned out how it did."
With his millions in bonus money, Bradford is set for life. With a wife, a child and a career in front of him, let's hope Clawson has already made the best decision of his life.
He quit football cold turkey.