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Breaking the mold: Chase Claypool brings unique background to Irish WR corps

| Friday, November 10, 2017

Facebook has 2.7 billion users, and each and every one of them uses it differently.

Some people use it to share articles they enjoyed; many will use it to share updates on life, family and friends; some even use it to share photographs or memes.

But if you’re Chase Claypool, you use Facebook to land yourself a college scholarship.

Growing up in Canada — Abbotsford, British Columbia, to be precise — the sophomore wide receiver started playing football when he was 8 years old. But it was always a sport he played for fun, never thinking it would bring him to where he is today the way many of his teammates who grew up stateside did — something he didn’t realize until he came to the U.S.

“People take [football] a lot more seriously, and I noticed a lot of my teammates played from when they were like 6 or 7 [years old] up until now, and that’s like what their parents wanted them to do,” Claypool said. “They take it a lot more serious here for sure. … It was more of a fun sport and not a serious thing for me.”

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool sprints down the sideline during Notre Dame’s 48-37 win over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

But he certainly did have a lot of fun playing the sport. He continued to play from 8 years old up through his junior year of high school for that reason, generating little interest amongst NCAA programs. He knew he wanted to try and play at the next level, however, but without a single offer by the end of his junior season, he thought the odds of realizing that dream to be slim.

Until he caught a break.

“I wasn’t really aiming to get a [Division 1] offer just because it almost was impossible and kind of out of reach already, being a junior and having no offers,” Claypool said. “So I just kind of threw up my film on Facebook — just something that I did for fun — and then [my AAU seven-on-seven football coach] saw it and sent it to some people. … So it kind of happened by fluke.”

And before long, that fluke turned into Claypool’s big break.

Soon after, the wide receiver rose up the ranks as a four-star wide receiver prospect, and with the attention came the slew of offers he had been missing until then — the first of which actually came from current Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian when he was the head coach at Nevada.

“It was surreal,” Claypool said of getting that first offer. “ … I hung up and I asked my mom, ‘Is this real? Like I don’t know.’ And then I started doing all my research on Nevada and was like, ‘This could be my only one,’ so I was making sure I knew everything about the school.”

Over the next few months, Claypool would receive 12 more offers before the start of his senior season at Abbotsford, featuring the likes of Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. But before the start of his senior season, he’d make his decision, committing to Notre Dame on July 10, 2015, and remaining steadfast in that commitment throughout his final season — one in which he caught 58 passes for 1,473 yards and 18 touchdowns, ran for 567 yards and eight touchdowns on 47 carries as well as netting 74 tackles, including two sacks, two fumble recoveries and five interceptions on the defensive side of the ball.

Having been on the star of his team — and the highest ranked recruit coming out of British Columbia — Claypool was in for a sharp change his first year at Notre Dame; in fact, he said he had strongly considered attempting to play both football and basketball — another sport he starred in at Abbotsford — at Notre Dame, but he soon realized that since football “was taken so serious,” he would only have time for one.

And even then, his time on the field in the sport he did play was limited — he had only five receptions in his first season last year and spent most of his time on special teams, leading the unit in tackles with 11. But that didn’t surprise or bother Notre Dame’s eighth Canadian player.

“I wasn’t really expecting to get on the field freshman year, so the fact that I had the opportunity to do that was exciting, so I tried to take advantage of that,” Claypool said of playing special teams. “And I was really excited. I didn’t really care if I was getting any air time or anything. Just making a difference when I didn’t think I would be, that was pretty cool.”

But when this season rolled around, he changed his expectations. Although the Irish were just as deep as last season at the position, particularly with the additions of two graduate students at wide receiver in Cam Smith and Freddy Canteen, Claypool said he planned to establish himself as a starter this upcoming season.

“I gave myself higher expectations just based off the spring,” Claypool said. “I had a good spring, so I kind of set my mind on being a starter, and I still had to work up to that during the year, but I’m happy I kind of grew to that point to solidify my spot on the team.”

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool runs with the ball during Notre Dame’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Claypool had 180 yards in the game.

But what he nor anyone else expected was for the sophomore who wasn’t on any NCAA program’s radar until after posting his highlights on Facebook to be leading the Irish in receptions (24) and yards (354) nine games into the season.

“I don’t think I ever expected it — I don’t think you really can expect it, going from last year to this year, being the leading receiver,” Claypool said. “I don’t really see it as being the leading receiver. Different games, different receivers will have equal opportunity to break out. … I think you always want to set your expectations high, but you never really want to fall back on those expectations so you don’t get disappointed.”

Part of the reason Claypool might not have expected to be the leading receiver at this point of the season was that very few expected the Irish offense to be as run heavy as it has become. And while the wide receivers certainly look to make the most of their opportunities, they all have embraced the team’s run-first mindset and found other ways to contribute — particularly, leaving their mark as blockers. Claypool said he’s definitely been motivated by contributing to the team’s “Punish Tape.”

“We have what’s called a Punish Tape, and right before the game, we watch it, and it’s just purely blocking,” Claypool said. “There’s motivation to get on that Punish Tape.”

Punishing his opponents isn’t something Claypool limits to his time on the field, however; when he’s not suiting up on Saturdays or spending his time at practice, he can often be found around the dorms trying to best some of his roommates in Super Smash Bros. and other video games. While it was a Facebook friend who started the process that helped Claypool earn his college scholarship as an athlete, it’s his friends on campus who have really defined his experience at Notre Dame.

“My favorite part is my dorm, Morrissey,” Claypool said. “It’s obviously small, but I chose to come back and stay just because the people are so cool. And that’s it — the people make this place so special.”

Over the last year and a half, he’s been able to travel coast-to-coast while spending time with the friends he has developed while living on campus. Claypool said he has had the chance to visit New York, Seattle, Chicago and Indianapolis, all while spending that time with the close friends he has made off the field — a fact about his time at Notre Dame he has been especially appreciative of.

“Having friends from all over is a really beneficial and kind of cool opportunity to be able to travel and hang out with your friends,” he said. “You don’t always want to talk about football.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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