Growing up in Abbotsford, B.C., Chase Claypool thought there was a chance he’d get offers from American universities — just not for football.
“Basketball was something I thought I could go far in and I was expecting some offers to come in,” he told The Athletic in September. “But as a junior, I started to lean more towards football.”
Claypool had been playing football “just for fun” since he was 8 years old, but it was on the court where he really stood out as a kid. He was averaging more than 47 points per game in AAU basketball before he shifted his focus to the gridiron. His goal? To play U Sports football, which is the Canadian equivalent of NCAA.
That all changed when he decided to post his high school highlight compilation on Facebook. Within a few weeks, he had received scholarship offers from Oregon, Washington, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Michigan and Notre Dame.
“When I got my Notre Dame offer, my coach was super excited and, honestly, shocked,” Claypool said. “I didn’t know much about them, but the visit was great and the coaches were great to me. I felt at home.”
Claypool went on to commit to the Fighting Irish. But despite his athletic success, Claypool’s story has also been shaped by personal tragedy. When he was 13, his older sister, Ashley, committed suicide. She was 17 years old.
“I think it gives me reason,” he told The Athletic. “And now, I look at it as she is always looking down at me. Before I do something, I ask myself, will this make her proud? If not, then I need to change it. My mindset is to make her proud.”
He says he still thinks about her every day. There’s a tattoo on his right arm in her memory.
“A thousand words won’t bring you back,” it reads. “I know, because I tried. Neither will a thousand tears. I know, because I’ve cried. Until we meet again.”
In his first year in South Bend, Claypool was mostly a special teams player, making just five receptions the whole year compared to eight tackles. He continued to improve every season, however, and in 2019 he posted career highs in receptions (66), receiving yards (1,037) and touchdowns (13).
“I haven’t had a player that has the kind of consistent competitive drive week-in and week-out, and that’s the way he practices as well,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told irishillustrated.com’s Tim Prister in November. “The trainers believe he’s the toughest guy we have on the team. He’s played with 3 dislocated fingers this year”
His offensive explosion as an upperclassman put him on the radar of NFL scouts all over the U.S. Now, with the NFL Draft less than a week away, he’s become one of the most talked-about names in the entire league.
Claypool’s strengths as a receiver are undoubtedly his size and athleticism. Listed as 6-4, 238 pounds, he excels at high-pointing the football and making contested catches in coverage. He’s also a surprisingly talented run-blocker, and his background as a special-teamer sets him apart from many of the other boom-or-bust receiver prospects.
“He reminds me of that former UNC receiver (Mack Hollins) that Philly picked up a few years back,” an unnamed NFC East executive told The Athletic. “Big, physical athlete who will cash checks on special teams, but he’s no slouch on offense either. Six-foot-four with 4.5 speed and old school toughness is something our coaches could use.”
Most scouts think he still needs to polish up his route-running to create more separation, but he’s got one of the highest ceilings of any receiver in this year’s draft. He’s also part of one of the best classes of Canadian talent the NFL has seen in years along with Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson and Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore.
Gallimore could end up being a first-round selection, which would make him the first Canadian to achieve the honor since Danny Watkins in 2011. Claypool had been mocked everywhere from the first round to the late third round entering the draft. SN’s Vinnie Iyer projects him to the Seahawks at No. 64 overall in his latest mock draft.
If Claypool can deliver on the undoubted potential that has scouts and analysts everywhere saying his name, he could become one of the best NFL players to ever hail from Canada. Whatever happens and wherever his future lies, though, he’s already done plenty to make his fans, his teammates and his country proud.
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