With a state championship in November and return trip to Austin in May, Decatur’s Taylor Clayton had what most would consider a dream season.
Finishing off a No. 1 preseason ranking in cross country with a state title, helping the Eagles achieve a district title in basketball and qualifying for two events at the state track meet in Austin, earned Clayton the 2012-2013 Wise County Messenger’s Male Athlete of the Year honors.
“There are a lot of athletes in Wise County – it’s humbling,” Clayton said. “I’m just honored.”
Clayton’s track and cross country coach David Park said the award is going to the right guy.
“He is very deserving,” Park said. “It’s been fun to watch him mature as he’s gotten older. He obviously has talent, but people don’t see the hours of work he puts in to become that person. I have a lot of confidence in him and expect him to have a great senior year.”
High expectations awaited Clayton and his cross country teammates before the school year even started.
“We started in the summer as the No. 1 team in the state, and we felt that we deserved it,” Clayton said. “We came out on top, and it was a very surreal moment for me.
“We fought for three years for that and to come out on top for all those seniors was the greatest feeling ever.”
Clayton and his teammates made it look easy, capturing first at district, regionals and state. Clayton finished third individually at the state meet after taking second at regionals and first-place at the district meet.
Park was always comfortable sending out his best runner to get the job done.
“When you have a state champion you have to have a bell cow,” Park said. “He fit that bill. It’s all about low scores and he was sent out to do battle with the other team’s number 1. For him to come back as that low number 1 – I thought was awesome.”
From cross-country Clayton went immediately into basketball. A natural runner, Clayton has always had basketball close to his heart.
“I’ve considered letting it go, but I like it so much,” he said. “The first thing I ever did was basketball.”
After a bit of a slow start the Eagles took off under new head coach Drew Coffman. Clayton helped lead the Eagles from his guard position to a district title and a spot in the area round of the state playoffs. He picked up District 9-3A first-team honors for his efforts while averaging eight points, three rebounds and four assists per game.
The success would continue into the spring with the track season beginning right after basketball.
Although he did not come into track in the shape he wanted to, Clayton performed at a high level.
“I came into track knowing it would be difficult to make it,” Clayton said. “Coach [Park] told me if I put in the work it could be done.”
Despite the late start Clayton started hitting his stride when it counted most. He was once again locked in a duel with Sanger’s Jacob Perry at the district meet in the 3200 and 1600. Clayton took second in both events and then came away with two second-places again at the area meet.
His third place finish in the 3200 at the regional meet easily stood up as the wild-card entry to state. He knew advancing in the mile would be much more difficult.
“In the mile there were four good runners,” Clayton said. “I knew if I didn’t put a gap between us they were going to outkick me, so coach said do something crazy.”
Clayton’s gamble of running way ahead of pace to open up a big lead paid off. He led the majority of the race into the final stretch when his legs started to give out.
“I could see behind me there was nobody for 50 yards and I just had to hang on,” he said. “We came to the last back stretch and I peeked over my shoulder and I saw his floppy hair [Perry] and I knew I had to go.”
With a late push Clayton was able to hold off Perry for third and clinch another wild-card spot for state, qualifying him for two different events.
The long Saturday in Austin didn’t go exactly the way Clayton wanted it to. He raced to a fifth-place finish in the 3200 that morning and took sixth that night in the mile.
“It’s an honor to make it to state,” he said. “I feel like I didn’t do the best to my ability, but you live to fight another year.
“After I ran the two-mile that morning, the mile that night was awful. I knew I was done from lap one. I was hoping to put a lead in there, try to medal but I just didn’t have the legs under me.”
Fortunately for Clayton he has one more year to try to top what he has already accomplished.