Mark Clayton only saw one way of life while growing up outside of Oklahoma City, in a town which is represented by the Facebook page “North Highlands Where the Thugs Be.” That way of life was one of gangs, crime and drugs. Mark looked up to his father, a drug dealing gang member, and saw what he thought would inevitably be his future. Fortunately for Mark, before he was catching touchdown passes on Sundays in the NFL, he caught a break when his mother and stepfather chose to move him, his little brother and sister to Arlington, Texas to escape crime.
Mark’s parents decided to sign him and his brother up for football, which they thought was a fun way to keep the two boys out of trouble. To Mark, that’s all football was, a way to have fun. In high school he planned on joining the air force, and then going to school to be an engineer. “I’m a big thinker; I like to think outside of the box. I wanted to help the community by sharing my visions. I just wanted to help people better themselves.”
Mark’s plans changed drastically when he was offered a football scholarship to one of the most prestigious programs in the nation, The University of Oklahoma. Mark was redshirted for his freshman year in 2000, an experience which he describes as “unreal.” The Oklahoma Sooners were ranked as the number 1 defense in 2000, which was no accident. “The most important part of that year for me was getting to practice against that defense on scout team every day. We tried to make them look bad, but more importantly we tried to get them ready each week.” The Sooners went on to finish the season with a perfect 13-0 record while winning the program’s seventh National Championship. “To see them go out and play the games that they played and ultimately win a title was amazing. That was the defense that held the all-time-great Florida State offense to a goose egg in the title game; they got two points because we let them get a safety.” Clayton said.
Mark’s profile exploded in 2003, as he garnered All-American and All-Big 12 honors. He recorded 83 receptions, 1,425 yards, and 15 touchdowns which all smashed the previous marks (66, 1,034, and 7, respectively). “When I think about those records, I think about how hard our line worked and how hard our coaches worked every day. I think about all the things that had to go perfectly in order for me to be able to catch the ball.” His quarterback, Jason White, won the Heisman Trophy, and the Sooners advanced to the Sugar Bowl before losing to the national champion LSU. Clayton had several “highlight reel” catches which caught the nations, and more importantly the NFL scout’s eyes.
During Clayton’s time at Oklahoma there were not only future NFL stars on his roster, but future NFL Hall of Famers. “Out of all of the players I played with, I would have to put Roy Williams, Tommie Harris, and Adrian Peterson in a league of their own. Roy completely dominated games from the safety spot, which is unheard of and Tommie, well, he’s Tommie. They just really dominated their positions, and did it in a way that they will all be in the College Hall of Fame. They did it in a way where you would just shake your head at the things they would do on the field.”
Coming out of college Mark was one of the most talked about prospects in the 2005 NFL draft. He was drafted by the Ravens 22nd overall. “At the time I was just happy to be in the NFL, even in college my goal wasn’t to go to the NFL. I enjoyed the fact that I got out of the house and got a scholarship. I was able to be on my own and go to school. It wasn’t until my junior year that I thought about going to the NFL.” The Ravens struggled in 2005, ending up with a less-than mediocre 6-10 record. A lot of the blame was placed on the team’s starting quarterback Kyle Boller. “Even though we had a rough year, it was fun. Everything was new, I felt like a little kid again. Everything was amazing.”
Everything got a lot more amazing when the Ravens signed Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair in the offseason. “I learned the difference between playing with a quarterback like Boller and then Steve McNair quickly. The way Steve played the game, the way he knew the game, and the way he studied the game it was like night and day. Having a veteran on your team like that is a blessing”.
One of the veterans on the Ravens to help Mark was the great Deion Sanders. “He helped me so much, he’s easily one of the greatest athletes of all time and one of the smartest football players of all time. Going against him was a lesson every day. I actually have a picture where I Moss’d him; my mom still has the picture. So I’ll always be able to talk about that.” One of the biggest lessons taught to Mark was learned from Deion. “He was talking about covering a receiver; to him it was all about speed. If he did not feel any speed he would never back up, which allowed him to jump every underneath route. He said if he didn’t feel speed, he wouldn’t respect that receiver. It makes a world of difference for a receiver to be able to show that, and I understand the thought process of a defensive back now and what happens when they see that and how they respond to that.”
Mark had five successful seasons in Baltimore before being traded in 2010 to the St. Louis Rams. He was the favorite target of quarterback Sam Bradford until he went down with a knee injury which ended his stint with the Rams, and put his career on hold. “Sam Bradford is the most talented quarterback that has ever thrown me a pass. For whatever reason he threw the most accurate ball that I’ve ever caught. He has amazing velocity, and he’s amazing under pressure.” That’s quite the praise for Sam Bradford considering Mark has played with Steve McNair and Joe Flacco.
In the past few weeks numerous media outlets have been naming Mark Clayton as one of the top free agents in football. The New York Jets desperately need help at receiver, and since head coach Rex Ryan and Mark are good friends from Baltimore, it seems like a good fit for the Jets to sign Clayton. Unfortunately Clayton isn’t quite ready yet. “If Rex called me today I would tell him I love him, and miss him but I just can’t help your football team win a championship right now.”
During Mark’s short time off of the football field he has engaged in numerous different projects. Mark founded a Christian based clothing line that connects with a variety of different camps and groups across the country, the clothing line is named “MyChristianT”. Mark was also a part of founding “Pros for Africa” which connects professionals of all fields with the children of Africa. Adrian Peterson, Roy Williams, Tommie Harris, Greg Jennings, and Larry Fitzgerald are all also involved with PFA and enjoy being a helping hand from America. PFA is a volunteer-led, private operating nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma that encourages professionals of all fields to share what they know, have and create with the children of Africa
When looking back at his career, Clayton says he has nothing to be disappointed about. He says he has no regrets. “Every minute, every experience, every relationship, I’ll never forget any of it. I’m working hard to come back and I hope to continue my career. Hopefully we can add some more stories, relationships, and experiences to my legacy.”