Tulane’s Shaadie Clayton-Johnson eyes his chance to shine this season
Tulane running back Shaadie Clayton-Johnson has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Specifically, he has embraced the opportunity for physical contact against would-be tacklers.
After tearing his meniscus during the summer prior to his junior season at Warren Easton in 2018, Clayton-Johnson worked tirelessly before returning to form in week six of his senior campaign.
The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder was the top rated running back in Louisiana in the 2020 recruiting cycle. He totaled 1,078 yards and 14 scores during the final five weeks of the season at Easton. During the five games in postseason, Clayton-Johnson ramped his game up another notch, accumulating an additional 1,186 yards and 16 touchdowns against some of the best competition in the state.
“I played with a chip on my shoulder during my senior season. I wanted to prove myself,” Clayton-Johnson recalled.
Offers from Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Auburn, Kansas, UTSA and Georgia Tech came his way but Clayton-Johnson opted for the Colorado Buffaloes. At the time, going to school a long ways from home was appealing.
“It’s sometimes hard for guys to go to college without distractions. I had to sort of push some people away. Some people who didn’t have my best interests. I had to go in a different direction. You know how the city is. If you hang with the wrong crowd, trouble will find you. I am blessed to have a loving, caring mother. She stays on my tail. She makes sure that I don’t hang with the wrong company.”
Another life altering change to return home to his roots has worked out well for Clayton-Johnson so far. He feels like he has grown in numerous ways in a short time.
“My maturity for sure,” he said with a smile. “My football IQ has grown, reading coverages, playing with leverage. Overall since I’ve been in college this has been my best offseason by far. I understand the offense and the scheme much better now. I understand running plays and the passing plays better. I understand situational football as a running back. I want to be more involved in the passing game and to be a complete back.”
The redshirt sophomore managed 333 yards rushing with two scores last fall, averaging a solid 5.8 yards per carry for the Green Wave. With the departure of Tyjae Spears to the NFL, the running back room features a host of options hungry for all of those available touches. Clayton-Johnson, transfer Shedro Louis, freshman Arnold Barnes, sophomore Iverson Celestine and redshirt freshman Mekhi Hughes are all in the mix to play important roles.
Tulane head coach Willie Fritz has thrown down the gauntlet, offering a challenge for the running backs to step forward and assert themselves.
“It’s déjà vu, I really feel like my junior year in high school all over again. My senior season, it was my time to show out,” Clayton-Johnson explained. “(Quarterback) Michael Pratt is still here. Tyjae Spears is gone. I’m ready. I’m ready to step up into my role. I feel great, I feel healthy. My mind is great. I feel like this (season) is going to be special.”
A power runner who demonstrates a little wiggle when needed, Clayton-Johnson displays quick feet. He is a one-cut runner who looks to get up the field.
Growing up in New Orleans, Clayton-Johnson has admired two running backs with local ties among a trio of successful NFL players.
“Leonard Fournette, we are from the same area. We worked out together. When I was younger, they used to call me ‘Baby Leonard’. When I got to high school, I started to pattern myself after Alvin Kamara. People told me that I had a lot of similarities to him. I’ve met him. He’s given me pointers. I really like how versatile Alvin is. He can block, run screens, choice routes, outside zone, inside zone. I also like Christian McCaffery a lot. Mostly I like those three because of their skills and versatility.”
Due to Tulane’s enormous success last season and top 25 preseason rankings heading into the season opener against South Alabama, the spotlight is focused on Clayton-Johnson and the Wave right out of the gates. The Sun Belt’s Jaguars are coming to Yulman Stadium with upset on their minds.
“I expect a hard fought game,” Clayton-Johnson said. “They were 10-3 last season. They were similar to us in success last year. We know that a lot of teams are going to come after us this year. It’ll come down to who wants it more. It will be a hard hitting, hard fought game. We can’t look past anyone.”
Warren Easton has sent a pair of alums who shined running the football to the NFL. New Orleans legends Eddie Price and Steve Van Buren made their marks many moons ago. When his playing days are complete on Willow Street, Clayton-Johnson wants to make that duo become a trio.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to play football at LSU, developing a passion for the game in even greater fashion while in…