Listen to redshirt senior Ryan Clanton talk about his truck, and you’ll know that the motor of Oregon’s offensive line loves motors.
The self-described redneck from Bakersfield, Calif., is constantly tuning up his 2007 Toyota Tundra, adding modifications to make it more his own.
“I got it lifted three inches in the front, one inch in the back,” Clanton said. “I put Nitto Trail Grappler tires on it, 35-inch deep monster rims, the whole sound system on the inside, two 12s, and I have a cold-air intake coming in tomorrow. I’m working on getting maybe a PA system in there so I can get people’s attention.”
At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, Clanton’s drawn plenty of that in his first full year as a starter for the Ducks. Tattoos cover his arms — inside his biceps are tributes to his mother, father and two sisters. On the outside of his right runs a massive cross surrounded by “Strength” in cursive. On the other side flies a tribal eagle with another cross inside. When he squints in the sun, he’s a menacing force, blond crew cut and all.
This year he’s been the rock in a unit that leads the seventh-most potent rushing attack in the country, despite losing its most valuable member, Carson York, to a broken kneecap earlier this month. But Clanton says losing the senior captain on the field gave the unit one more voice on the sidelines.
“He’s a coach, he’s a leader,” Clanton says. “Before (York) went down, I would come to him, and if he was hurting and couldn’t do a drill, I would get out of the drill and go straight to Carson: ‘How’d that look? Was my footwork good?’”
While Clanton said he is still working on some of that execution, he claims he’s come a long way since transferring from junior college in San Francisco in 2010. Clanton arrived in Eugene labeled as the No. 7 JuCo offensive tackle in the country, a four-star Rivals recruit accustomed to compensating for technique with his sheer strength if necessary. The Ducks’ offense was a lot to swallow.
“My redshirt year here, I was totally confused. I didn’t know right from left,” Clanton admits. “This year, I finally just sat down in the offseason, and now I feel like I know everything about the playbook.”
More demanding than knowing the plays is running them at Oregon’s nano-second tempo. It can put a burden on the men in the trenches on both sides of the ball. While Clanton credits head coach Chip Kelly and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood for the O-line’s thorough conditioning, he’s heard horror stories from opposing players just trying to keep up with his offense.
“Guys talk about throwing up on themselves,” Clanton said, specifically remembering a game against Tennessee during his redshirt year. “That’s just kind of common, and it’s not like everyone’s not tired — everyone’s tired, we just know how to push through.”
As one of York’s favorite quotes — a Chip Kelly platitude — goes, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to your preparation.” Clanton agrees that at the speed the Ducks play, it can be tough to keep up with everything going on. He’s leaned more on his experience this year to not miss a beat.
“It’s kind of a blur,” he said. “Once you really understand what you’re doing, you can almost get a panoramic view of the defense and know what you’re supposed to do.”
Oregon’s success between the tackles and on the ground is far from new. Greatwood’s squads have paved the way for six consecutive rushing titles and truckloads of praise for both the ball carriers and Greatwood himself. After graduating from the University in 1980, the Eugene native had stints in the NFL as a player with the San Francisco 49ers and as a coach with the St. Louis Rams. Clanton, as many of his players do, appreciates Greatwood for his tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
“Show respect and he shows respect back,” Clanton says. “You don’t want a guy who sugarcoats anything; you need criticism, and he’ll give it to you.”
Clanton takes his coach’s words as a compliment.
“I think that’s about how it is. They always say, ‘I might be ugly, but my truck is good-looking,’ so that’s my deal,” Clanton says. “I got a nice-lookin’ truck, he can have his nice show truck. I look behind me, I see Kenjon, all haircut. I got a big beard and tattoos. I feel like the purpose of a farm truck is to get work done, so that’s a great analogy.”
With tough conference matchups on the horizon including a much-hyped showdown with USC in Los Angeles, the Ducks hope that truck doesn’t run out of gas.