I pride myself on special teams. I love special teams, kickoff and punt returns. I would love to do it. —Kaelin Clay
SALT LAKE CITY — Kaelin Clay has accepted the challenge. The senior receiver, who joined the Utah Utes this summer, vows to leave his mark in his one and only season with the program.
Clay is being asked to make history. Special teams legends Reggie Dunn and Shaky Smithson want him to take their names out of Utah’s record book. Both rank among the best return specialists in team history.
Dunn holds team records for kickoff return yards in a game (222); kickoff return average yardage in a game (74.0) and career (30.88); and kickoff returns for a touchdown in a game (2), season (4) and career (5).
Smithson is the all-time leader in punt return yards in a season (572), as well as punt return 100-yard games in a season and career (4).
“They’ve told me what to do,” said Clay, who considers Smithson his mentor and speaks with him almost every other day. He also keeps in close contact with Dunn, who is in camp with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
“I pride myself on special teams. I love special teams, kickoff and punt returns. I would love to do it,” Clay said. “Reggie Dunn and Shaky, they have both challenged me, like, ‘We want you to get up and get the record. We want you to get the kick return and punt return record.’ So I have those two dudes in my corner.”
As such, Clay is determined to get it accomplished.
“So I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to do my best to do it,” he said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Clay will have the opportunity to do so.
“He will. As of now we’ve got him penciled in to be the kickoff return guy and the punt return guy,” Whittingham said when preseason camp opened. “Those are some lofty goals. Reggie set some standards here that may never, never be broken and Shaky the same thing. Those two guys were very dynamic. So if he can be in that company that’s pretty good. That’ll be good for us if he can do that.”
Whittingham added that Clay seems to be a natural, noting he’s done it his whole life.
Teammate Tevin Carter, who redshirted with Clay at California in 2010, considers the former prep track star one of the fastest guys in the nation.
“It’s crazy, man. He’s electric,” said Carter, who explained that Clay is one juke, one block away from taking kicks back for big yardage.
That’s welcome news to Whittingham, who acknowledged that increased efficiency and yardage that the Utes didn’t get last year — particularly on kickoff returns — will “just help our cause.”
Running backs Devontae Booker and Troy McCormick are also in the mix to return kickoffs. Defensive back Travonne Hobbs and running back Bubba Poole are challengers to return punts.
Clay’s athleticism leads to versatility. In the receiving corps, he’s kind of the designated speed guy. He’s determined, though, just to go out there and “complement all the other receivers.” Whittingham considers him to be more than a slot receiver. He compares him to Smithson, a “tweener” who could also be a viable carrier out of the backfield.
“If a kid can play two or three positions, that’s like getting two or three guys in one scholarship — and so Clay has the ability to do a few different things,” said Utah receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield. “He’s explosive enough, his top-end speed is good enough, and he’s thick enough where he can line up in a lot of different ways and be successful for us.”
Clay enrolled at Utah after two seasons at Mount San Antonio College in California. He was injured in 2011, following his redshirt year at Cal. At Long Beach Poly High, Clay was a SuperPrep All-American.