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Hilo High grad Clay chasing NFL dream


It’s only fitting that nothing is guaranteed for former University of Hawaii football player Charles Clay, who signed a rookie free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.

Clay wasn’t picked in the seven rounds of the NFL Draft. But after two rookie camps, he was signed to the 90-man roster. The three-year deal contains no signing bonus and no guarantee he’ll be on the final 53-man roster on Aug. 31, the NFL’s last cutdown date.

The 2009 Hilo graduate walked on to SMU and made coach June Jones squad. It was the same thing at the University of Hawaii, where he worked hard enough to earn a scholarship. Could the 5-foot-10, 204-pound safety bat 3 for 3 with the Packers?

“I’d say my chances are good,” he said. “It’s how hard you work at it. You always need a positive attitude. I feel I can contribute at special teams and at safety, too. My athleticism definitely could benefit this team.

“It was exciting to sign. It was definitely a feeling of accomplishment. But none of the money is guaranteed. A roster spot isn’t guaranteed. It’s another goal, another steppingstone for me. Now, it’s time to go after one of the 53 roster spots.”

Clay spent a week at Green Bay’s practice facility at Lambeau Field preparing for OTAs (organized team activities), which start Wednesday with the 90-man roster. It was a week’s worth of a time-management routine: get to Lambeau at 5:30 a.m., lift weights, practice, hit the classroom and check out at 3:30 p.m.

He’ll have a full week off until OTAs. Lambeau Field is closed, and Clay intends to spend his down time studying his telephone-thick playbook, and working out at his hotel’s gym. The Packers foot the bill for lodging, meals and shuttle transportation.

“I know the playbook about 75 to 80 percent,” he said. “But you can never stop learning. There’s always something new to learn. To make the team, my special teams play will have to be huge, and being a playmaker as a solid safety. Our safeties coach Darren Perry tells us it’s all about production.”

At least, Clay has a helping hand in fellow safety Chris Banjo, a second-year player and former SMU teammate.

“He’s a nice guy and he’s helped me out,” said Clay, who ran a 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash at UH’s pro day, noting that the two friends will likely compete for the same roster spot.

There are six safeties on Green Bay’s roster, including first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, out of Alabama. The third rookie is Tanner Mills, undrafted out of Iowa. Morgan Burnett, a five-year veteran, had 96 tackles last season while third-year safety Sean Richardson had 13 tackles.

Burnett and Clinton-Dix are locks to make the team. The four others, including Clay, figure to be in a musical chairs fight for the remaining spots, likely to be determined down the line by the personnel department.

“You can’t mess up twice. That’s the big thing,” Clay said. “Nobody is perfect. When a play comes your way, you’ve got to be able to make it, be in the right spot, be mentally prepared, and that’s when plays come naturally, and you start making big plays. When you watch Clay Matthews on film, you can tell it’s easy for him to harness his gift and play with his natural ability.”

All the Packers, including Lambeau Field icons Aaron Rodgers and Matthews, come in next Wednesday, and there will be no time for star-gazing. It’s strictly business for Clay, whose only guarantee is his hard work that has followed on every football field.

“My journey is a testament to hard work,” he said. “I take pride in that, and my family takes pride in what I’ve accomplished. I’ve been given opportunities and it’s paid off with hard work. Whatever shot you get, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

 

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