116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Clayton Muszynski admitted he’d prefer to play safety.
After all, the Linn-Mar senior manned that post the last two seasons, leading the team in tackles and earning all-state honors each year.
This season, however, came with a new head coach, Tim Lovell, and with it new roles for Muszynski, who accepted the move to outside linebacker and switched from receiver to fullback duties.
His only concern was what was best for the team.
“I’m here to win at the end of the day,” Muszynski said. “From Day 1, Coach Lovell has been stating do your job. It’s team first. I’ve bought into that. It’s not about me it’s about the team.
“If I have to play outside linebacker to win, I’m all for it.”
Muszynski has been a stalwart defender again, ranking second on the team in all four major tackling categories entering the Lions’ Friday night Homecoming game against Class 4A eighth-ranked Cedar Rapids Washington (2-1).
The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has transitioned from a jack-of-all-trades safety to a primary run stopper on the edge. The result is 16 tackles, 13 solo, and 3 1/2 tackles for loss in Linn-Mar’s 3-0 start.
“He is a tremendous worker,” Lovell said. “He has grown into a leadership role for us, as a senior, on bother sides.
“He’s accepted his role on offense as a fullback and he’s owned the playbook. We’ve asked him to redefine his role a little bit on defense and to play more of a (disciplined) role.”
Leading by example started in the offseason, working with younger players in the weight room.
Lovell said Muszynski has done the little things that have impacted the Lions. He’s the first in line for drills, to pick up the field and helping teammates when he’s not on the field. Muszynski has helped keep the Lions accountable and they are reaping the rewards.
“Lovell sat us down at the beginning of the year and told us his expectations, what he would like,” Muszynski said. “I bought into that and explained that to the underclassmen, showing them what the weight room is all about and the expectations on the field.
“Give 100 percent in every drill.”
Muszynski has meshed athleticism with toughness, focusing to improve his mental preparation and dedicating more to physical training.
He has been a student of the game, logging lots of time viewing footage on Hudl. Lovell noted Muszynski is coachable, learning from coaches and applying it in practice and competition.
“He’s doing a great job with understanding what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and I love it when he asks questions because it means he is genuinely looking to make his game better,” Lovell said. “We’re a better defense when he’s on the field. He brings an intensity, intangibles and physical nature of his play fires everybody up.”
One of those instances came in the 25-15 victory over Iowa City Liberty in Week 2. He took on a backfield blocker, jarring him and knocking him to the ground.
“The kid wanted nothing to do with him the rest of the game and it was in the second quarter,” Lovell said. “That, to me, is a physical intensity that a lot of guys needed to see. We showed it out on film. It was a great example of being an unselfish football player and doing your job. That’s what we asked him to do on that play and he did it.
“To me, that was a strong defining moment for him, understanding the importance of don’t over complicate it and just play football. Most importantly, just have fun and he loves football.”
The physical nature of football comes natural to Muszynski, who has 161 career varsity tackles with 113 solo.
He welcomes the challenges presented by an opposing blocker, a ball carrier trying to break loose from his grasp or preventing defenders from stopping his teammates.
Muszynski doesn’t shy away from contact, which his dad, Chad, has preached to him from a young age.
“I love that physicality, blowing someone up and proving you’re the better man,” Muszynski said. “There’s just something about it that gets me going.
“I grew up on it, I guess.”
He shares a passion for football with his dad. They are bonded by the sport, discussing it daily, watching games or scouting video.
“I’ve always been watching football and playing it,” Muszynski said. “He really got me started, so I’d say I get my love from him. He’s taught me most of what I know.
“I really appreciate it, even though I probably don’t show it as much as I should.”
The Muszynskis don’t just cherish time around football. Clayton said he loves to hunt and fish. Chad taught him the latter, taking trips together.
Clayton loves hunting pheasants, has just started hunting deer and would like to go after turkeys in the future.
He grew up chasing bass, but has turned toward muskies. Clayton was excited to catch his first muskie at Lake Namekagon this summer.
“I love that whole aspect of life, being outside,” Muszynski said. “They are my biggest hobbies outside of football.
”It (catching my first muskie) was an amazing experience. I think I’m addicted to muskie fishing.”
Interestingly, Homecoming will be against the alma mater of Chad and his mom, Melissa. Both graduated from Washington, where Chad was an all-state lineman.
They haven’t had any good-natured squabbles about who wins Friday. Debate about the better player seems to have been quashed as well, especially after Clayton viewed old VHS tapes of his dad playing that his grandmother unearthed.
“Yeah,” the younger Muszynski said, “but I think he knows it’s me.”
Clayton has displayed leadership off the field as well. Teachers have told Lovell they enjoy him in class.
He aspires to play college football, receiving offers from NCAA Division II and smaller D-I schools. Right now, he’s open to any opportunity, but the regular season has his full attention.
“Our seniors have an important job to do,” Lovell said. “It is to leave the program in a better place.
“If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to leave quite a legacy to some young guys who want to be like Clay when they grow up.”