Former Pokes QB Don Clayton coming home
HOUSTON -- For 20 years, Don Clayton roamed the sidelines at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas.
In fact, he was the only head football coach in the school's history until 2019, when he announced his retirement in April. Clayton is Texas high school football royalty. In his two decades, the Cougars went 141-78. They made the playoffs 13 times. Cinco Ranch made the state semifinals in 2009 and 2016. They won a district title in 2008.
When he announced his retirement, the school posted a large sign out in front of the high school. It said "Happy retirement coach." He was also honored by the Texas State House of Representatives in May. They wanted to acknowledge his contribution to the west Houston area and its children.
Clayton told the Houston Chronicle that he has a few goals now that his falls will be a little less busy. He wants to attend a Michigan-Ohio State game at the Big House in Ann Arbor. He wants to see the Master's live in Augusta, Georgia. The 62-year-old wants to travel with his wife, Rhonda.
That includes watching his alma mater, the University of Wyoming.
Clayton hasn't been to Laramie since his 1976 Fiesta Bowl and co-WAC championship team was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
Saturday, Clayton will be in attendance at War Memorial Stadium when the UNLV Rebels come to town. It's a chance for him to get back to his roots. A chance to see his Cowboys up close and personal.
The last time he was in the Gem City, he received the highest honor.
The squad's plaque reads like this: "The 1976 Wyoming Cowboy football team brought gridiron success and excitement back to UW for the first time since the Black 14 incident in 1969. The Cowboys went 8-4 overall and were co-champions of the Western Athletic Conference with a 6-1 conference record. Led by quarterbacks Don Clayton and Marc Cousins, they beat BYU in Provo, a tough Arizona State team in Laramie, Arizona in Tucson, and finished the season with a win over UTEP in El Paso."
Clayton was a four-year letter winner at Wyoming as both a punter and starting quarterback under legendary head coach, Fred Akers. When Akers got the job at the University of Texas before that Fiesta Bowl game, he asked the handful of Wyoming players from the Lone Star State if they wanted to join him in Austin.
"We knew we would have to sit out a year if we did that," Clayton said in his office at Cinco Ranch High School back in the spring. "We loved Wyoming and didn't want to have to sit out a year."
Clayton, who is from Nederland, Texas, was also a catcher on the Wyoming baseball team.
After his time in Laramie was up, Clayton had a brief stint as a punter with the Buffalo Bills. It's easy to see why. Clayton used to own the school record for an 87-yard punt against Utah State in 1978.
Teaching and coaching in his native state were next on the docket.
But for the coach, nothing beat a Saturday afternoon in Laramie.
"It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before," he said. "The fans were amazing. The whole atmosphere was something special."
The Fiesta Bowl didn't turn out quite how Clayton expected. The Cowboys lost to the Oklahoma Sooners, 41-7.
Clayton, who was predominantly a wishbone quarterback, was forced to throw the ball 14 times. He completed just five of those. Wyoming tossed five interceptions that day and fumbled the ball once against the Big 8 Champions.
Either way, winning football was back in Laramie. No. 13 and his brown Wyoming helmet had a lot to do with that accomplishment.
Personal note: I met coach Clayton back in 2014 in Baytown, Texas. I was covering the area football teams and the Bayou Bowl, a local all-star game between the best from the Houston area and Louisiana area, that would be playing that spring at Stallworth Stadium.
I was a young reporter, new to Texas. A man stopped me and said, "Hey, I have to go take a photo, but I want to talk with you."
I was thinking, "Oh good, what did I screw up already?"
Turns out, nothing — yet. I was wearing a Wyoming Cowboys polo shirt. The man who wanted to chat was none other than Clayton. He was coaching the Texas All-Stars. He also let me know that he was the Pokes quarterback from 1975-78.
He told me he was the signal caller against OU in the Fiesta Bowl. My first thought was, "We got killed that day." I wasn't going to tell him that, instead, the next day, game day, I approached coach again and said, "Man, you had a rough day." He let me know that he was a wishbone quarterback — and head coach Fred Akers had been all but absent during bowl preparation.
In other words, it was a free-for-all for the team down in Tempe, Arizona.
Clayton was beyond well-respected in the Texas high school football ranks. And if you know anything about football down there, that is worth its weight in gold. He is a nice man. A funny man. A loving and loyal man.
I am a better man for knowing him.
I hope he is honored Saturday night in Laramie. He deserves it.