Kiski Area running back Clayton bulks up
For much of his football career, Lincoln Clayton played the role of a bruiser on the field.
At the Pee Wee level, he pushed kids around as a lineman and later as a fullback, and in junior high, he moved to running back and pounded away from that position.
Clayton's circumstances changed a year ago when, as a freshman, he joined Kiski Area's varsity team and started as a 5-foot-11, 165-pound running back. Opponents were bigger. Faster. Not intimidated.
Bad news for those opponents: Biology delivered Clayton a much-desired boost during the offseason.
He still stands 5-11, but Clayton now weighs 190 pounds. Lifting in the offseason led to considerable muscle development and strength gains. He's an imposing figure once more, yet he remains fast enough to cause problems for defenses.
As a follow-up to a freshman season in which he rushed for a team-high 579 yards and four touchdowns on 120 carries, Clayton aims to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
“(Last year), I could've done better, but I kind of liked what I did,” Clayton said. “I got used to that level. I wasn't used to the style — how fast everything happens. Everybody is pretty good. No one is slacking on the other side of the ball.”
Clayton, who also will start at outside linebacker, is one piece of a multi-threat running back corps. Senior Patrick Turner will serve as a blocker in many schemes, but he has the talents to break off big gains as well — he gained 306 yards and scored four times on 55 carries. Turner's younger brother, freshman Justice Evans, adds a speedster to the equation. And senior Jacob Ardellitz provides further depth.
“I like having a lot of running backs because it doesn't let me take any plays off at practice,” Clayton said. “I think that's kind of why I started last year. I wanted to beat (the upperclassmen).”
His running style is well-defined and distinct from those of his teammates.
“I'm a power back,” Clayton said. “I've got a couple moves, but I'm not anything like Justice. If it's a big lineman, I'll cut back. But if it's a linebacker or a corner, I'm putting my head down.”
Said coach Dave Heavner: “When he's running the football, he certainly knows what he needs to do to finish the run. And sometimes when he finishes the run, it's a touchdown. And sometimes, he turns a 2-yard run into a 4-yard run. He gets those two extra yards using his athletic talents.”
Clayton is one of the few skill-position players with a concrete role in the offense. Around him are several Cavaliers who might move from the backfield to the perimeter to quarterback.
Heavner described packages that'll shift Turner, senior wide receiver Joey Brungo and senior tight end Shane Kuhn away from their natural spots. Brungo and Kuhn have received Division I attention, and their coach intends to get them the ball through traditional and more creative means.
Clayton welcomes the share-the-ball philosophy.
“As long as we win, nobody is going to care,” the sophomore said.
His sentiment is shared by many, including the seniors, whom Heavner described as the program's strength. The Cavaliers understand what must be done to build off last year's success — the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“There are a lot of players who are going to make unbelievable plays for us,” Heavner said. “They're hungry to win. They're hungry to leave a legacy.”