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.
For Chase Claypool, those words tattooed on his arm cut deeper than any divot his cleats have ever made. They envelop his right bicep, ingrained into the very fabric of his person and will forever serve as a reminder of his sister’s devastating suicide — although not necessarily in the tragic sense.
"Just the idea of her looking down on me is motivation”, the Notre Dame receiver said after her death. "Not letting my mom down and not letting my sister (Ashley) down. That’s the driving reason to go out and give it my all every day. I see that tattoo and it reminds me of what my goals are."
In many ways, Claypool’s inked arm is a coping mechanism. Very few can spin such a tragic incident and try to find the positive but Claypool has found a way.
It’s only fitting that his favorite film is “The Pursuit of Happyness” — a 2006 drama starring Will Smith — because, despite all of the obstacles, Claypool has done just that in his own story. Pursue happiness.
Now only months away from realizing his NFL dream, he is showing that with enough hard work and dedication a kid from Canada can overcome any struggle and make it big.
Contrary to popular belief, Claypool’s biggest passion wasn’t always football. He wanted to be a professional BMX rider and spent his early years perfecting his biking skills. Due to his large frame, pedaling eventually got too hard to handle, which meant he had to change lanes. That’s where football entered the equation.
The uber-athletic Claypool had played on the turf since he was six years old, but never really considered it as a potential career option. That changed once his bike couldn’t support his ever-growing knees and the 6-foot-5 Claypool made football his primary focus.
Claypool’s background in BMX, along with experience in karate and gymnastics, made the transition relatively easy. His athleticism and coordination could be seen from a kilometer away. It took a bit longer for that talent to reach the mile mark, however, with Claypool’s geographical location causing a bit of a recruiting problem.
“I wasn’t aiming to get a [Division I] offer just because it seemed impossible and out of reach already,” Claypool said. “I just kind of threw up my film on Facebook, which was just something that I did for fun, and then [my 7-on-7 football coach] saw it and sent it to some people. Being discovered happened by fluke.”
After having zero offers through most of his junior year, Claypool quickly climbed up the recruiting leaderboard, catching the attention of coaches in the United States. By the time his senior season rolled around, Claypool was a 4-star prospect with 12 FBS offers.
Claypool and his humble nature attribute the breakthrough to luck, but after wearing a shamrock on his sleeve for the past four years, it seems he’s lost all meaning of the word. The truth is Claypool earned those scholarships with his hard work and determination. The Notre Dame receiver magnified his microscopic platform by his own doing, dominating at the high school level in every sense imaginable. It didn’t matter if he was playing in Winnipeg or at IMG Academy — a sports academy in Bradenton, Flordia — Claypool’s resilient nature shined on any football field. He was selected as British Columbia’s Player of the Year his senior season and put an entire organization on his outstretched back. Claypool compiled 2,514 all-purpose yards in 12 games, scoring 29 touchdowns and passing for three others. His 1,473 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns were also the most of any player across the province.
And if that wasn’t enough, Claypool tied for his team’s tackling lead with 74 stops, adding five interceptions as a cherry on top. Oh, and did I mention he averaged 45 points per game on the basketball team?
Not too shabby.
To The States
The youngest in a family of four brothers, two step-brothers and a sister, Claypool knew what it was like to be the greenest in a group setting. Not surprisingly, he experienced the same sort of environment as a freshman at Notre Dame. Claypool struggled to get onto the field as he tried to acclimate to a vastly different American. His production steadily increased throughout the next two seasons where he would go from a special teams ace to a starting wideout. Claypool was paired alongside Miles Boykin — the 93rd-overall pick in the 2019 draft — and the two formed a large and talented outside duo for the Fighting Irish. As the Robin to Boykin’s Batman, Claypool totaled 79 catches, 1041 yards and six touchdowns in his sophomore and junior seasons. The numbers on a run-first Irish team were more than respectable, but not exactly eye-popping.
Unfortunately, Claypool also had to deal with injury issues, highlighted by off-season surgeries in 2018 and 2019. After repairs to both his shoulders and ankles, the rehab process was understandably tricky. It was far from the hardest thing Claypool had been through, however. All he had to do was look down at his right arm to be reminded of that.
Much like in high school, Claypool’s senior season at Notre Dame is when he began to find his groove.
He started the year as the team’s de-facto top receiver and finally established himself as a dominant red-zone threat, amassing 13 touchdowns in as many games. The high point came in a November match-up against Navy, where Claypool racked up over 100 yards and four touchdowns on seven catches. He finished the year with 66 catches and over 1000 yards and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in the Citrus Bowl after posting an impressive 7-146-1 line.
Interestingly enough, that wasn’t the best game in Claypool’s college career. After receiving an invitation to the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl, a widely recognized all-star event, the Irish product was given another massive platform to show out. He put that opportunity to good use.
From his on-field performance to his interviews to his weigh-ins, everything about Claypool screamed “professional” in Mobile, Alabama. It’s during this time Claypool went from a probable draft selection to a Day 3 lock, potentially even rising to a Day 2 pick in the process. It’s a wild rise considering his difficult past and incredibly small Canadian platform.
“I hope to be an example of someone who defied all odds and capitalized on an opportunity that kids like me could never dream to have,” Claypool said in his farewell tweet to Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve. “Attending, and graduating from the University of Notre Dame, could never be a goal, only an unimaginable opportunity that kids from a small city in Canada could never dream to have.”
Although Draft Day will be a momentous occasion for Claypool, he isn’t just going to stop there. After all, you don’t need to look past his bulging bicep to find the motivation driving his professional future. But Claypool’s transition to the pro game won’t necessarily be a clean one with many still split on his murky outlook. Essentially everyone agrees that he belongs in the NFL, but most don’t know what form that will take.
“I think I’m a physical receiver who’s pretty fast for my size. [I] can get in and out of breaks and catch the ball really well,” Claypool said. “But top of the route mechanics, creating separation and the ability to learn the playbook are all things I can still learn to improve upon.”
The assessment of his own game is extremely accurate, as many other draft analysts have shared similar sentiments, especially regarding separation. Creating space has been a talking point for the big-bodied Claypool, with his large 229-pound frame usually the culprit behind the discussion. He’s 10-15 pounds away from tight end status, and his strong blocking ability and impressive athleticism have some preferring Claypool in an Evan Engram- or Jonnu Smith-type “inline” role at the next level. Others, however, have seen the success Claypool had on the perimeter and want to keep him as a boundary receiver, using his large catch radius and superb box-out skills to their fullest capabilities.
No matter the role he fills, though, he has already done the impossible.
He’s cried 1000 tears. He’s spoken a thousand words. And in less than two months, Claypool will be one of just a few thousand players in the NFL.
Pretty impressive for some kid from Canada.