CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s first-year offensive line coach knows what he speaks of when he preaches a “dog-like mentality.”
A lightly-recruited lineman out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian High School, Ryan Clanton was an academic non-qualifier at a number of Division-I schools and realized if his dream of making football his life was to come to fruition, it would have to begin at junior college.
So, along with close friend and high school teammate James Tate Peterson, City College of San Francisco ended up being the place. The easy choice would have been to stay near home and go to Bakersfield College, but Clanton knew he needed to get away from home and establish new and better habits. A storied program like San Francisco’s was somewhere that could happen.
Feeling good about their choice, Clanton and Peterson were faced with the impossible task of finding affordable housing in San Francisco. Neither had much money, so their search ended when they found a garage for rent 45 minutes south of the city. Their new home had just enough amenities.
Ultimately, over the next year and a half, that garage was where Clanton developed his “dog-like mentality” and set himself up for a fulfilling life of football.
“When you’re out there with your best friend and you’re sitting there in a garage you think to yourself,” Clanton said. “A lot of people would second guess that. But for me I knew my purpose. I knew I was going to play Division I college football.
“No one could tell me I wasn’t going to. I was going to outwork everyone in the nation.”
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Their garage had a television, a fridge, microwave and a few other useful household items, but was far from what most would consider a livable space. Showers could only be had at school and meals for the week — when they weren’t living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — were cooked, frozen and driven by Peterson’s aunt to the garage.
Weightlifting was twice a day, film study was non-stop and lights were off every night at 10.
Clanton obsessed over anything he could to make him better and, ultimately, that mind-set is what got him a scholarship to Oregon, where he won a Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl and was a member of a team that played for a national championship. It also helped land him his first coaching job and later a spot on the UNI staff.
Looking back on his interview with UNI head coach Mark Farley, Clanton feels his time spent in the garage once again gave him an edge over the competition.
“I think that’s kind of what I would assume was different than a lot of the other applicants,” Clanton said. “They were probably more qualified realistically with more coaching experience, but at the same time with me it was kind of that mentality. This is what (Farley) wants for this offensive line unit.”
Clanton can’t help but grin when he talks about those days in the garage with his best friend. Sports are filled with stories of perseverance and overcoming adversity, but Clanton’s story, born and built where most people park cars and store their belongings, sticks out from the rest.
“I think I used (the garage) to help me,” Clanton said. “I knew I would (come) to appreciate those times.”