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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Having a Blast

Clayton's Explosive Runs for Grant Place Him Among All-Time City Section Rushers From Valley

November 16, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VALLEY GLEN — Nobody can run to daylight quite like Perry Clayton, and not only because Grant High plays home games in the afternoon.

He sees a sliver of an opening, slips through it swiftly, then views a panorama of paths with vision like a wide-angle lens. His feet move so fast they appear to leave the ground.

Where will he touch down?

Touchdown!

"I can really see the field," he said. "I can anticipate what the other person is doing. I can feel the acceleration. It's like everybody is moving in slow motion. Then I pick them apart."

These aren't the rantings of a big-headed, ballcarrying blowhard. Clayton is polite and humble. He's merely explaining how it feels to average 232 yards a game.

"He is a quiet guy whose work ethic on the field is incredible," Grant Coach Bill Foster said. "He doesn't miss practice. He's a team player. He's achieved what he has because of all those qualities."

The feats of Clayton:

* His 2,323 rushing yards are the most by a City Section runner in the Valley since The Times began keeping records in the mid-1980s.

* He leads City rushers this season by nearly 900 yards and only Tyler Ebell of Ventura has more yards among region players.

* He leads City players with 26 touchdowns and 156 points.

Not bad for a 5-foot-7, 165-pound senior who did not play high school football until last season. Clayton sat out his freshman year with a broken wrist and was ineligible as a sophomore.

He rushed for 597 yards last season while splitting time with his best friend, Matt Carter. Clayton decided to attend Grant because of Carter, whose older brother Duriel was Grant's tailback in 1998.

It has been a good fit. Clayton could start for nearly any team in the Valley, but in the Sunset Six League he became dominant.

"He's got a combination of acceleration, balance and breakaway speed," Foster said. "As light as he is, he's a tough runner."

Clayton's teammates appreciate him for more than his production. Grant is 7-3 and won its first league title since 1989 because the players get along so well. No one, including Clayton, gets special treatment.

"He is a team guy who cares only about winning," quarterback Alfonso Estrada said. "He's real humble. He jokes around with us, but he's usually quiet."

Like any good running back, Clayton credits his linemen, who include tight end Carlos Mendez, center Fernando Ramirez, tackles Anthony Smith and Shawn Huntsinger, and guards Andres Bermuda, Moises Saldivar and Jonathan Fanua. Clayton doesn't talk often, so when he says something in the huddle, everyone tunes in.

"He understands we do the work and he gets the credit," Huntsinger said. "He tells us when we make a good block and there are times he pushes us and says that if we open a hole, he'll break one.

"It motivates us because one of the best feelings in the world is to help get a running back over 2,000 yards."

Grant has six victories in a row and was 5-0 in Sunset Six play. The Lancers open the City Championship playoffs against host Sylmar tonight. The Spartans have a staunch defense featuring two of the region's best linebackers--Josh Martin and Isidro Medina.

"I don't think it will be that tough for us," Clayton said. "Most people can't get ahold of me. Everybody tries to go head up because they think I'm weak. Then they realize that I'm pretty strong. I like that."

Consistent work in the weight room molded Clayton, who can bench press 280 pounds.

His small stature and big game spawned a nickname. Clayton's teammates called him "Lil' Barry," as in Sanders, and the nickname morphed into simply "Larry."

The comparison flatters Clayton, who worshiped Sanders as a youngster collecting football cards. Lately, though, time at home is spent studying for the SAT, which he will take in December.

"It really dawned on me in my sophomore year that school is important," he said. "All my friends were playing and I wasn't.

"I've been thinking about that test for months and studying my SAT prep book every night."

Clayton is generating substantial interest from four-year colleges, although he might be ticketed for junior college first. He makes it clear he wants to continue playing.

His numbers speak for him as well. Clayton rushed for more than 300 yards against Cleveland, Palisades and North Hollywood, the toughest opponents on the Lancers' schedule. He had at least 200 yards in three other games and his lowest output was 150 yards in the season opener against Manual Arts.

That's a lot of carries and a lot of yards. But he has his favorite.

"Against Cleveland there was one run where I made the whole team miss," Clayton said. "I was spinning off everybody. It was pretty cool."

The season has been a blur of spins, jukes, straight-arms and leaving defenders squinting in the afternoon sun as he crosses the goal line.

"This is a season I never want to end," he said. "I just want it to keep going."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Feat of Clayton

Perry Clayton of Grant High became the first City Section rusher from the Valley in at least 10 years to top 2,300 yards. A look at his season and competition:

*--*

Opponent Att. Yds. Avg. TD Manual Arts 21 150 7.1 1 Lincoln 19 179 9.4 2 Palisades 30 313 10.4 2 Cleveland 31 337 10.9 3 Reseda 27 176 6.5 4 Verdugo Hills 13 169 13.0 2 Canoga Park 27 247 9.1 2 Hollywood 28 200 7.1 3 Poly 18 245 13.6 3 N. Hollywood 27 307 11.4 4 Totals 241 2,323 9.6 26

*--*

A Look Back

Since 1990 there have been seven City Section rushers from the Valley to surpass 2,000 yards:

*--*

Player, School Years Yards Perry Clayton, Grant 2000 2,323 Dante Clay, No. Hollywood 1996 2,232 Emmanuel Evans, Birmingham 1997 2,205 Quincy Wright, El Camino Real 1997 2,146 Matthew Hicks, No. Hollywood 1999 2,126 Jonathan Campbell, Poly 1990 2,091 Elijah Raphael, Kennedy 1991 2,070

*--*

* PREVIEW OF CITY SECTION FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS ON D13

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