MONROE – Kyle Reed spotted the big kid in his homeroom class two years ago.
He was surprised to find out that the kid didn’t play football.
Reed didn’t know at the time that he would become Monroe’s varsity football coach.
And he didn’t know if the big guy would ever turn into a football player.
But he knew that the sport could be good for the soft-spoken freshman.
Delmar Clay has become more than the coach ever imagined.
Clay, who had never before played football in his life, quickly fell in love with the game and dedicated himself to becoming better. He dropped about 40 pounds and has become a starter on the defensive line for the Trojans.
“I met him in my homeroom and he said he had never played,” Reed recalled. “I spent pretty much the whole year working on him. He finally he decided to come out last year.”
Clay is the son of Tanya Dickerson, one of the best hitters in the history of Monroe’s softball team.
He comes from an athletic family but never even watched football before last season.
High School Football Notes: The stories behind the final scores
Wait a minute.
Doesn’t every boy grow up watching football?
“Not me,” Clay said with a grin.
So, what convinced him to come out for football?
“People kept asking me,” he said. “My whole family played. I decided I would give it a try. I figured I could just quit if I didn't like it.”
Clay did like it. In fact, it only took a few practices for him to get hooked.
“I love it,” he said, again flashing his infectious grin. “I’m able to hit people.”
His newfound love for the game led to Clay working on his body. He weighed around 380 pounds when he first joined Monroe’s program.
He now has his playing weight down to 338.
“That was big,” he said. “It helps me with my stamina and breathing.”
He hopes to shed more pounds.
“I am going to continue,” he said. “I am not giving up.”
Clay attributes most of the weight loss to the physical aspects of football – running, lifting weights, and practice.
He also adjusted his diet.
“I’m eating better, less sugar,” he said.
Even if the story ended there, Reed would have considered recruiting Clay to the football program a success.
“He lost a lot of weight, which is really good for him in life and he’s a fun kid to have around,” the coach said. “He’s kind of a quiet kid. He’s starting to come out of his shell.”
The extra bonus is that Clay developed into a starter.
“I wasn’t sure how much he would help us,” Reed admitted “I just thought football would be a good thing for him. He’s improved every day.
“I am proud of the kid. He’s gone from not playing to a starter on the defensive line.”
Clay is part of a Monroe defense that has posted back-to-back shutouts and is giving up fewer than 8 points per game in jumping out to a 3-1 start in Reed's first year as head coach.
“All the defense has been great,” he said. “Coach (Alex) Russo, Coach (Drake) Minton and Coach Mac (Jody McCollum) have really been working with us.”
There was a steep learning curve for Clay. In addition to adjusting to his new body, he had to figure out the game.
"I didn't really know football," he said. "I never watched it. Everything I know about football, I've learned in the last year."
Clay has become one of the most popular players on the team. He is supported by a lot of family members at games and has become the favorite player of the marching band. Band members often call his name during games.
How did that happen?
“I don’t know,” Clay said. “I guess it’s because I am friends with a lot of them.”
And Clay has quickly formed close bonds with his teammates.
“These guys are my brothers,” he said. “We may not like each other all of the time, but we always have each other’s back.”
The intensity of the varsity game is much higher than it was last year on the junior varsity.
“It’s a whole different world,” Clay said. “The team and coaches are so dedicated.”
Clay is developing into a leader.
“The younger football players, I try to keep them in line,” he said.
Clay is achieving things he never dreamed were possible two years ago.
“I am proud of myself and all the work I’ve put in,” he said.
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Monroe junior Delmar Clay quickly learns about football