According to sources and multiple reports, junior running back John Clay has decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the 2011 NFL draft. Clay's decision comes one day after junior defensive end J.J. Watt threw his name into the NFL ring.
"There are a lot of people that I would like to thank who have helped me along the way," Clay said in a statement. "I'd like to thank the great Wisconsin fans for supporting me throughout my time as a Badger. I'd also like to thank my family for helping me through this process.
"I want to thank my coaches for giving me the opportunity to come to Wisconsin and putting me in a position to showcase my talents. Also, thanks to my teammates for everything they have done to help me. Finally, I have to give glory to God for blessing me with this opportunity. This is the right decision for me at this time and I'm excited to start a new chapter."
Despite missing two full games because of a knee injury, Clay was a Doak Walker Award finalist, an AP third-team All-American and consensus second-team All-Big Ten after he rushed for 1,012 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and a team-best 92 yards per game.
Clay was instrumental in putting Wisconsin in the conference race with his back-to-back performances against No.1 Ohio State and No.12 Iowa. Clay rushed 21 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns in a 13-point win over the Buckeyes and followed that up a week later with a 92-yard, two touchdown performance in a 31-30 win over Iowa, a victory Clay called a ‘redemption game' after he was knocked out of the previous year's game with an injury.
Clay finishes his career seventh in school history with 3,413 career rushing yards (trailing Terrell Fletcher by one yard for six place), and fifth in school history with 41 career rushing touchdowns and 18 career 100-yard rushing games.
"Since coming to Wisconsin, John has gone above and beyond all of our expectations both on and off the field," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said in a statement. "His tremendous production on the field speaks for itself, but we are also proud of him as a teammate and the work he has done in the classroom and off the field. We support his decision and wish him luck."
His best season was arguably his sophomore season, when he became the feature running back and ended up being the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year, rushing for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns.
But a crowded, productive back field and injuries limited Clay down the stretch. Over the final five games, the Racine native had only 27 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown. In the 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl, Clay rushed for 76 yards on 11 carries with six coming on the Badgers' final drive.
Clay said after the game that he was '50-50' on his decision and would make one after meeting with the UW coaching staff today. Clay did say leading up to the Rose Bowl that his age (he turned 23 on Tuesday) would play a part in his decision because of the short life span runners have in the NFL.
According to the NFL Players Association, running backs have the average career of 3.3 years and ‘30' is considered over the hill and Clay, who had double ankle surgery last spring, didn't want to wait much longer, according to a source.
Even without Clay for the majority of the last four games, the Badgers averaged 312.5 rushing yards, and return a majority of their depth at the position.
Junior-to-be Montee Ball rushed 163 times for 996 yards and a team-high 18 touchdowns after starting the season as the No.3 running back while sophomore-to-be James White rushed 156 times for a team-high 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
The Badgers also will have senior Zach Brown, who redshirted this season, redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis, lauded for his speed and agility, and incoming freshman Melvin Gordon, who was named the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Offensive Player of the Year after leading the state with 28 touchdowns and rushing for 2,009 yards on 158 carries, an average of 12.7 yards per carry.