Former University of Missouri lineman John Clay was known for his tenacity and no-nonsense approach as he went on to become a consensus All-American and a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Raiders.
As the new head football coach at Cahokia High School, Clay said he hopes to instill those same traits as he attempts to make the Comanches a metro-east gridiron power once again.
“To me a key factor is being focused. I’m a disciplinarian and I believe that in order to be successful you have to be focused on what you are doing,” Clay said Tuesday. “When you are on the football field, you need to be focused on what you need to do to be successful. The same way in the classroom. You need to be focused on studying hard and doing your best in school. It’s about becoming an excellent student-athlete.”
Clay, 51, was officially hired during the Cahokia District No. 187 Board Meeting in December. A St. Louis native who starred at Northwest High School, Clay takes over the Comanches coaching reigns from longtime coach Antwyne Golliday, who resigned last fall.
Golliday led Cahokia to a mark of 81-53 in his 13 years at the helm. Since finishing 9-2 in 2009, however, the Comanches have failed to make the playoffs and compiled only a 23-31 mark in the past six seasons.
After Golliday resigned, Cahokia athletic director Earl McDowell Jr. began accepting applications and soon after that, the interviewing process began.
“I believe Mr. McDowell interviewed six to eight applicants. Some were phone interviews as we had several out of the area people who were interested in the job,” Cahokia High School Principal Kevin Bement said. “After the process was over, we felt that Mr. Clay was the best one for the job and he was hired.
“I am very impressed with Mr. Clay. He is is the man we feel is best qualified to not only get this football program back in the playoffs but also take it the next level while also meeting the high academic standards we have at Cahokia High School. We’re excited about the future.”
A 1982 graduate of Northwest High School, Clay went on to star at offensive tackle at Missouri where he became at consensus first team All-American, Clay was then chosen as the No. 15 overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Raiders.
Clay played for both the Raiders and San Diego Chargers but his career was cut short after just three years by a neck injury. Clay was an assistant coach under Darren Sunkett at Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County from 1993 to 2000 and was also an assistant coach at East St. Louis from 2000 to 2014. Clay worked with both the offensive and defensive linemen.
But now, Clay will have his own program.
“I’ve been an assistant for a long time, but being a head coach and being able to implement my ideas into a program is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now,” Clay said. “Cahokia has a great tradition in athletics. Its track and field program is one of the best anywhere and I know they’ve had success in basketball and wrestling as well.
“The football program has been very successful in the past. The job of my staff and myself is to get the kids out who want to work hard and buy into what we want them to do. My goal is to have this football team in the playoffs next year.”
Clay said he would like to run a wide open, spread the field, pro-style offense and a hard-hitting defense.
“We’ll run a pro-style offense. I like to build it around a strong running game and then throw the football,” Clay said. “On defense I want us to be aggressive with a lot of players around the football. We need to be a good tackling defensive unit.”
Clay said he is working on naming his coaching staff, which will include former Cahokia standout Byron Gettis.
A more pressing need for the Comanches will be to get more players into the program.
“The athletes are here. It’s just a matter of having that main group of kids you know want to play football and believe in the system and have them pull along the kids who maybe want to try playing, but may have some reservations,” Clay said. “If we can get the kids out who want to be here and hopefully be part of something special, we’ll have success.”
Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean