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News and Media

Yeoman Football Player Leads Stout Defense, Leads Nation in Sacks

Nov. 02, 2012

By Erich Burnett

Photo by Brendan Stritt

For a guy with no interest in self-promotion, Clay Eaton earned a reputation quickly.

“His nickname is ‘The Working Man,’” says Oberlin Head Football Coach Jeff Ramsey. “He got it his freshman year because he came in and he just wanted to work. He never wanted to take a play off. And he’s lived up to that nickname really well.”

Once considered an undersized overachiever from a rural town in northwest Ohio, Eaton has blossomed into the most effective pass rusher in the North Coast Athletic Conference. A key contributor at defensive end from the moment he stepped onto the practice field four years ago, he’s started in 35 straight games for the Yeomen.

Now a senior, Eaton is putting together a dominant season on a 3-5 team that boasts the conference’s second-ranked defense. After eight games, he has racked up 15 quarterback sacks—an Oberlin single-season record and more than any other player at any level of college football this year (his nearest competition has 12.5). With 34.5 career sacks and counting, Eaton has already shattered the school’s all-time record, along with the previous marks for tackles for a loss.

He’s also shattered any expectations he had for himself during his first visit to Oberlin’s campus.

“Academics were the main reason I came here,” says Eaton, a sociology major who excelled in the classroom at Van Buren High School, south of Toledo. “But I love this coaching staff, and Coach Ramsey is a football genius, so that made my decision an easy one.”
“When he came to visit us during his senior year, he was small,” the coach remembers. “I was thinking, ‘This is the same guy we saw on film?’ But by August, he had put on some weight, and we said, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’ With a guy like Clay, when he comes in, you know he’s special.”

Ramsey attributes Eaton’s success to far more than just his 6-1, 240-pound frame. Whip-smart, he also boasts a rare combination of speed, power, and quickness off the line. But there’s something more, the coach adds.

“It’s in the eyes. That’s something we emphasize here, and Clay just has it. He has that ability to synthesize what’s happening around him and to react like nobody else.”

Eaton himself is far more reluctant to take credit. “I look at it as our whole team put together,” he says. “I only get good numbers because everyone does their job.”

Oberlin’s remaining games are a one-two punch against perennial conference powers Wabash and Wittenberg. Though it’s a tough way to conclude a college career, it might not signal the end for Eaton: He has garnered the attention of multiple NFL scouts, who envision him as a potential outside linebacker and special teams player. If he takes the next step, he would be the first Yeoman in history to suit up for an NFL team. For now, he’s got other things on his mind.

“It hasn’t even hit me yet,” Eaton says. “I’m sure it will after the season is over. But I’m not going to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out, because I’ll have an Oberlin degree either way.”

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