Cameron Clear has never been put in a perfect position. Some of that is his own fault, others due to the changing landscape of college football.
He’s been given a second chance on football’s biggest stage. And he just might wind up being one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sleepers in training camp.
Football was not his first love. He picked up a basketball at the age of four and excelled in the sport. At Memphis Central High School in Tennessee, he played power forward. During his senior season, he averaged 12 points and nine rebounds for a team that went 21-9 and ranked fourth in the state. This short clip shows a couple highlights, a massive man dominating around the rim.
The focus on basketball was also born out of program success. On the hardwood, they were dominant. On the gridiron, anything but. They were never better than 4-6 during Clear’s time and twice, only managed to win one game.
He spent his first two seasons as an offensive tackle. But with the team desperate for weapons, his head coach moved him to tight end. In his final two seasons, he caught 44 passes and during his senior year, found the end zone six times. A grown man at 6’6 260 pounds, he became a matchup nightmare for defenses.
The record wasn’t pretty but it didn’t stop powerhouse schools from knocking on the door, something they had never done before.
“I’ve had (college) coaches come in here and say, ‘Coach, this has been my recruiting area for 10, 15 years, and I’ve never been to Central. Never,'” head coach Rod Gaston told The Commercial Appeal. “My thing was to get the colleges to start coming back through the door. Even last spring, I didn’t hear from anybody. This spring, it’s totally different.”
Clear says Duke offered first, opening up the floodgates to schools too many to list but nearly the entire SEC. The opportunity to stay local and stay at tight end, several teams wanted to convert Clear back to tackle, and the four star prospect committed to Tennessee.
He played all 12 games his freshman season, spot starting in two of them. Most of his contributions came on special teams and he wound up catching just one pass in 2011.
Before he could find out if the Vols would throw to him more, he tossed that opportunity away. In the spring of 2012, he was arrested for stealing a baseball player’s laptop. He was immediately suspended and two days later, dismissed by head coach Derek Dooley. The coach wished Clear well but was firm about his decision.
“There comes a time when a player’s actions dictate that his privilege of being a part of this team should be removed.”
As a lot of players in his situation do, he turned to the junior college level and more specifically, Arizona Western. Three players from the 2015 draft class came out of there. Outside linebacker Randy Gregory and tight end E.J. Bibbs, who started over and overshadowed Clear in 2012. Bibbs would go on to be named a second-team All-American. Clear had five catches all year. Keep in mind this was a team that averaged 45 points per game, a prolific offense the backup tight end never got to indulge in.
His two minute highlight tape consists of two catches with a solid minute devoted to blocking. Not exactly thrilling to the casual fan.
But his blocking was excellent and schools again came calling. Five offered him a scholarship. One was Texas A&M, for the second time, after offering while Clear was in high school.
It’s reasonable to think he didn’t have delusions of grandeur and was going to suddenly become the focal point of the Aggies’ spread attack. But the system wasn’t suited for him, an eighteen wheeler at the Daytona 500.
His snap count was low, his usage even smaller. Line up off the line, block, or release into the flats. He finished his senior season with five catches and his Aggies’ career with nine.
In four years of college football, he totaled 15 receptions for 154 yards and one touchdown. For perspective, since 2010, Danny Amendola and Wes Welker have surpassed that total in a single game.
Statistics, of course, only tell part of the story. Clear’s build, ill-suited for college, makes him unique. There aren’t many 280 pound tight ends at the NCAA level. They’ve given way to the athletic, move tight end, the matchup nightmare offenses – in college and the pros – crave.
And it’s why Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley pointed him out when talking with reporters during OTAs.
“He’s a big, good-looking body and had about six catches last year and wasn’t on the field. So it’s just what you value and what you think gives you the best chance to win and I think that as long as we’re all here, we’ll value a big tight end that catch and block.”
Don’t underestimate his athleticism, too. He’ll never outrun Usain Bolt but showed better than expected athleticism on tape and recorded a 33.5 inch vertical at his Pro Day.
Clear’s game is still raw and Jesse James appears to have the fast track on the final tight end spot. But the rookie from Texas A&M seems like an ideal practice squad candidate. In a year or two, he could assume Matt Spaeth’s role of a well-built blocker.
It took several more years than anticipated with a couple of curveballs mixed in but Clear may have finally found his home.