By Tommy Cobb
WAGONER – Wagoner’s Lateeze Clayton has been through a lot since last summer both on and off the football field. It hasn’t always been what he’s wanted, but Clayton has done what he needs to do to help his football family and his family at home.
Clayton has become an anchor on the offensive and defensive line for the second-ranked Bulldogs. He’s also a big reason they are advancing to tonight’s quarterfinal playoff contest against Weatherford as Wagoner continues defense of its Class 4A championship.
“He’s a great football player,” said Wagoner coach Dale Condict. “He’s also a great athlete and a great kid.”
Clayton was moved from tackle to fullback before the season started. But early on, “Lala”, as he is known by his teammates was asked to trade his number 12 jersey for his old number 52.
“I just felt like something was missing on the line,” Condict said. “He was the missing element. I felt like he would make more of an impact there.”
Clayton, who also plays basketball, throws the shot put and discus, and sometimes runs the 200 in track, wasn’t overjoyed about moving back to offensive line. But being a team player was more important.
“I really didn’t want to go back,” Clayton said. “But I told coach that I would do whatever I needed to do to help the team win. If this is what we needed to help get another championship, I’d do it. Besides, I think we had plenty of help in the backfield.”
Those who know Clayton aren’t surprised by his attitude to do what’s best for everyone. Clayton, who ran a 4.65 forty in summer camp, was looking forward to his senior year like most. But his life was turned upside down last July 4 when his mother, LaQuinta, died suddenly.
“You could tell he was really hurt,” Condict said. “But I admire how well he was able to handle it emotionally and the maturity he showed.”
LaQuinta was a single mother of four. Lateeze quickly became the main parental figure to his three younger brothers – Theondre, 13; Lamarreon, 10; and A’rayan, 3.
“Mom raised me to be strong,” Clayton said. “It took a lot of praying. I really didn’t want to train and do what I needed to do, but I knew she would want me to. My brothers look up to me more than usual. I try to tell them I’m a brother not a father. I try to keep them in sports and out of trouble.”
Clayton thinks he has always played hard, but the loss of his mother has made him an even better player on the field.
“I don’t play mad, but more physical,” Clayton said. “I’m more comfortable on the field. I think it’s because she’s out there with me.”
Despite the changes on and off the field, Clayton has helped put the Bulldogs in a position to repeat. As far as tonight’s game is concerned, Clayton is humble with his prediction.
“I don’t like to brag and say we’re going to beat someone. But, I will say that I think we’ll play good enough to win,” he said.
And his reward for giving up the position he wanted so badly to play? Clayton made up for that against Vinita when he was moved from the middle return position to a deep returner where he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
Friday’s winner gets the Anadarko-Fort Gibson winner next week.
Weatherford at No. 2 Wagoner.
Kickoff: 7:30 tonight.
Radio: KTFX 101.7.