In the course of training room banter as they waited their turn to be taped, a Baylor teammate referred to Houston Clements as “Wart.”
It fits in a certain sense as a physical description, because the senior running back doesn’t touch 5-foot-6 unless he has laced up his cleats.
The kid is unique. He’s never had a Big Mac and the only fast-food burger he ever had — a single Krystal as a freshman after the state wrestling tournament — left his stomach in knots. His diet consists of all natural and organic foods, and he absorbs good-natured ribbing because he packs a lunch for school every day.
So though he has unique eating habits for a teenager and he’s diminutive as football players go, in other ways he is a giant. The coaches, specifically linebackers coach Eric Westmoreland, quickly pegged him “JYD,” as in “Junkyard Dog,” for his scout-team work when he was ineligible as a transfer from McCallie.
“Here’s a young man who came in knowing he couldn’t play varsity football and he came in and made numerous sacrifices,” Baylor coach Phil Massey said. “He never missed a day. He ran our scout teams, and at the end of that year we gave him an award for his unselfishness and the way he pushed our first teams on offense and defense. He was so unselfish.”
Clements remembers the year fondly although he was about as far from the limelight as an athlete could get.
“It was fun. I got to play all the different offenses to help the starters get ready, although getting hit wasn’t always fun,” he recalled. “I think that’s when I realized that I was doing something for something bigger than myself. It wasn’t about me but about helping other people.”
The coaching staff fell in love with his work ethic, his commitment to excellence and his dedication, because he went about his chores in such a way that it was infectious.
His attitude is actually reflected by his favorite movies, which include “Remember the Titans,” “Rudy” and Sylvester Stallone’s well-known “Rocky” series.
“The Rocky movies — he was always the underdog and yet he overcame adversity,” Clements said.
Much of that character’s appeal is about a maturing process, but it also is about heart and desire.
“Houston may be small physically, but he has never allowed size to be a negative. And he has the heart of a giant,” Massey said. “There are certain kids that you just know as a coach are leaders. Houston has that aura that draws other people to him, and Houston has been a leader whether it was on the practice field, in the classroom or on the game field. He’s a guy others are looking to and then listen when he has something to say.”
Last year Baylor entered the Montgomery Bell Academy game with a 3-0 record, but playing at MBA is always a tough task and the Red Raiders found themselves behind late in the third quarter.
“We ran our backs on a rotation and it happened to be his rotation,” Massey said. “Our offense had been sputtering, and all of a sudden he provided this spark that allowed us to march down for the go-ahead score. It was a pivotal point in our season.”
It was on the ensuing series that Clements suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon tear.
“There was no celebrating in the postgame huddle. It was like the kids had lost their best friend,” Massey remembered.
Yet four months, a surgery and hours of physical therapy later, Clements was on the wrestling mat and finished third in the state tournament.
“I had a great surgeon [Dr. David Bruce], a lot of prayers, a great support group and a lot of rehab,” he said.
The process made him fully realize that his time as an athlete might be limited.
“You only have a small window of time in your life to play sports,” he said.
He and the Baylor staff plan for him to make the most of it.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...