NCAA: (18) Virginia 20, (10) Notre Dame 35
Canadian Chase Claypool is living up to the lofty billing of No. 1 receiver for the University of Notre Dame.
The six-foot-four, 229-pound native of Abbotsford, B.C., leads the NCAA's ninth-ranked Fighting Irish (3-1) in receiving with 21 catches for 286 yards and two touchdowns heading into Saturday's game against visiting Bowling Green (1-3).
After undergoing off-season ankle surgery, Claypool suffered an ankle injury in last week's 35-20 win over No. 23 Virginia, but the senior receiver said this week via telephone he'll play against the Falcons.
"I'm fine," said Claypool, who had six catches for 30 yards versus Virginia. "I just got twisted up slightly."
Claypool was Notre Dame's No. 2 receiver behind Miles Boykin last year with 50 receptions for 639 yards and four TDs. With Boykin (59 catches, 872 yards, eight TDs last year) now with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Claypool moved atop the depth chart.
"There's no extra pressure," Claypool said. "I knew what my job was, what my role was going to be before the season so it really didn't change anything.
"We don't care what our ranking is because it really doesn't matter until the last one. A national championship is always the goal."
Notre Dame's lone loss was a 23-17 setback against No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 21. Claypool had six catches for 66 yards and a TD in that road game.
Notre Dame can't look past Bowling Green to future games against USC (at South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 12) and No. 19 Michigan (at Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sept. 26).
"I'd agree with that," Claypool said. "It's a good time to try and clean everything up.
"So far it (the '19 season) is going pretty good. The team is playing well and I think as soon as our offence starts clicking we're going to be a really good team. Our defence can't bail us out every time."
Boykin and Claypool formed a solid 1-2 punch last year for Notre Dame, which posted a 12-0 regular-season record to finish third in the NCAA rankings and qualify for the U.S. college football playoffs. But the Irish's stellar campaign ended with a 30-3 semifinal loss to eventual champion Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
Claypool's main 2019 goal is getting Notre Dame back to the playoffs.
"And this time get to the championship," said the management consulting major. "My goal individually isn't anything statistical.
"It's becoming a better route runner, contested catches, stuff like that."
Claypool is again being driven by the memory of his older sister, Ashley, who committed suicide in 2011 at age 17. She's always nearby as a tattoo on Claypool's right arm includes the words: A thousand tears won't bring you back. I know, because I cried. Neither will a thousand words. I know, because I've tried. Until we meet again."
"It's a quote from her memorial," Claypool said. "It's a daily reminder of someone who I'm playing this game for, it's a way to show respect and love for her.
"Every time I play, I dedicate it to her."
As a freshman in 2016, Claypool became just the eighth player from Canada to appear in varsity action at Notre Dame. Even as a veteran in his fourth season, Claypool is constantly reminded of Notre Dame's rich football history.
"I get a good reminder every day when I walk into the football facility," he said. "I always knew of the tradition at Notre Dame and what was expected from each of its players.
"That's why I came here."
Claypool's college tenure began on special teams, something he continues today as a member of the Irish's punt team.
Tim Brown ('15 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee) and Raghib (Rocket) Ismail (CFL's Toronto Argonauts, NFL's Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys) are just two former Irish receivers who've enjoyed productive pro careers. Golden Tate is currently with the New York Giants while Boykin is a rookie in Baltimore.
Claypool would like to join that list, but isn't losing sleep over it just yet.
"Once the season is over, then I can start thinking about that," he said.
Claypool feels Notre Dame does a solid job of preparing its players for the next level.
"I understand the game more," he said. "I'm able to run better routes and expect and anticipate what's going to happen before it does . . . I know how to identify different coverages.
"I think my physicality and speed will be good at the next level. But I can improve my quickness and I'd say route-running can always get better."
If an NFL career doesn't pan out, Claypool will have another option. Last month, he was ranked No. 2 on the CFL scouting bureau's list of the top-20 prospects for next year's draft.
"I'd say the goal, first and foremost, is the NFL," he said. "But if that fell through, I do think (playing in CFL) would be a cool thing to do."
Both Vince Magri, the Toronto Argos' director of Canadian scouting, and Drew Allemang, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' senior director of personnel and co-manager of football operations, expect Claypool to garner plenty of NFL attention.
"He checks all the boxes," Magri said. "He's got everything you looking for with his size, frame, ability to run smoothly in and out of breaks, his hands and ability to run after the catch.
"He's got all the tools teams down there are looking for."
Allemang said Claypool's special-teams prowess will also impress NFL officials.
"One of his strengths is the edge he plays with, the physicality," Allemang said. "At one time he played all four special teams and I know he still does (play special teams), which is kind of rare for a starting player.
"He probably could be the top kid (in CFL scouting bureau) depending on who you talk to. It's the rare blend of size, strength, physicality and all the athletic traits that come with that and he's also playing at a very high level. He's not a player who comes around too often."
Claypool said it's surreal to be playing football at such a prestigious American university. However, he remains grounded, thanks to friends and family back in B.C.
"It's definitely cool but when I go home they don't really care (that Claypool plays at Notre Dame)," he said. "I don't feel like a celebrity or anything like that."
Claypool has become a master of time management and juggling football with academics.
"Once I got into a rhythm after my freshman year and (used to) the routine, it was pretty easy to do both," he said. "The school part is definitely challenging but in terms of time management, I've definitely improved in that area."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2019.