PROVO, Utah — Coleby Clawson walked into JerryWorld 14 Septembers ago. He was like the rest of us, the first time we saw the Dallas Cowboys’ now-iconic stadium.
“It was awesome,” said Clawson, who in 2009 was a Brigham Young outside linebacker.
Two things stood out in the first non-exhibition football game in Jerry Jones’ massive football cathedral. The giant video screen, of course, but also the locker rooms. They were nice! Spacious. Clean. Everyone had a locker.
“On the road, you prepare yourself for being in locker rooms that are more like dungeons,” Clawson said.
And that video board, which has captured the imagination of everyone who ever walked through the doors of JerryWorld. Half the time, Clawson found himself watching on the big screen.
“You can’t take your eyes off that TV,” Clawson said.
But the grand debut of JerryWorld is not what people remember about the OU-BYU game of September 5, 2009. And not even BYU’s 14-13 upset is at the forefront of Sooner minds, even though they have the memory of elephants when it comes to defeats.
The lasting memory of that OU-BYU game was Clawson’s hit on Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford, late in the second quarter. Bradford’s resulting shoulder sprain ended up wrecking the OU season. The Sooners, ranked third in the preseason Associated Press poll, finished 8-5.
Bradford, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, came back five weeks later and quarterbacked OU to victory over Baylor. But early in the next game, Texas on October 17, Bradford was hit again, and his shoulder was finished. Done for the season. The Landry Jones baptism resumed.
Return to BYU
The first OU-BYU game since JerryWorld commences Saturday morning in LaVell Edwards Stadium, and Clawson will be there. His office is just down the road, in BYU’s football headquarters. Clawson is the Cougars’ director of sports performance.
He’s got a doctorate in physical therapy, but he’s back at his alma mater, part of the team, combining his medical passions with his commitment to strength and conditioning.
Part of any transition for a football program to a power conference is building up the players physically. Bigger, stronger, faster. That’s part of BYU’s process to be more competitive in the Big 12.
And Clawson leads that charge for BYU.
“Always had a feeling I’d be back here, not really sure why,” Clawson said. “Took several years to make it happen, but now it’s a good spot for me. It’s a dream job.”
Clawson grew up in Mount Pleasant, Utah; then attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah (Josh Heupel’s junior college); went to BYU without a scholarship and became a key player on really good Cougar teams. That 2009 BYU squad finished 11-2 and ranked 12th by AP.
That’s when BYU was making the transition from passing pioneers to rock ‘em-sock ‘em football. In the last 15 years or so, BYU is known more for hard-hitting, hard-charging football than for Edwards’ iconic quarterbacks like Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson.
Brent Venables was Bob Stoops’ defensive coordinator in 2009, and the loss of Bradford wasted what remains the best OU defense since 2001. And Venables remembers the physical nature of that game in JerryWorld.
“Big, physical, mature football team,” Venables said of the 2009 Cougars. “You’re going to be ready to have it strapped up. They’re going to bring it. They’re going to play with passion. Physical toughness. Mental toughness. They’re going to fight for four hours. Nothing’s going to come easy, is what I remember.”
That kind of football was exactly what Clawson enjoyed. That kind of physicality.
“I’ve always loved it,” Clawson said. “When I played here, I loved strength and conditioning as much as I loved football. It always interested me.”
Clawson considered going to medical school after graduating from BYU. He worked with the Cougar football team in the weight room for a year and a half, trying to settle on his next move, and eventually settled on physical therapy school.
“Felt like physical therapy would allow me to keep my foot in the performance world,” Clawson said. “Good blend between medicine and strength and conditioning.”
Clawson ended up teaching physical therapy at Rocky Mountain University, where he got his doctorate in human and sports performance.
And in September 2022, BYU brought back Clawson, as the Cougars continued the preparation to join the Big 12.
BYU’s initial trip through the conference has been rough. The Cougars are 5-5 overall but 2-5 in conference, including three straight blowout defeats.
“We’ve done pretty well, health-wise,” Clawson said. “Played in a lot of physical games, and that’s what we want to do, is be a physical team.
“In terms of the future, being in a Power Five conference, I think we’ll need to recruit big, strong athletes, and I think that’ll help us stay healthy as well. I think we’re on a good trajectory.”
The infamous blitz
Two plays before the blitz everyone remembers, Jaime Hill, BYU’s defensive coordinator that 2009 season, called the same blitz.
Clawson ran free at Bradford, who unloaded the ball well before he wanted to, but just before Clawson got in a good lick.
Why not try it again? So in a 7-7 game, 12 seconds before halftime and the Sooners at the BYU 18-yard line, here came the blitz again.
Clawson was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so he often lined up on the line of scrimmage.
BYU’s right defensive tackle rushed up the field, veering slightly outside, so OU offensive tackle Trent Williams had to take a wide angle.
BYU’s nose guard crossed across the face of OU center Brody Eldridge, taking Eldridge in the opposite direction.
BYU’s inside linebacker blitzed the gap between Eldridge and guard Stephen Good, so Good was occupied.
And the beauty of the blitz was that Clawson waited half a second before attacking, just enough time for the OU linemen to be engaged and committed elsewhere.
“Wasn’t just that team or that day, that blitz seemed to work against every opponent,” Clawson said. “Lots of hits on quarterbacks. It was a problem for people.”
Just like two plays earlier, Clawson ran unencumbered at Bradford, who scrambled to his right to get away but knew it was fruitless and flung the ball just as Clawson hit him.
“I knew it was a good hit,” Clawson said. “We were both running in the same direction. It wasn’t a big hit. Wasn’t that kind of hit. Just the speed at which we both were running and landed.
“Getting up, I could tell he was in some anguish. I didn’t know he was actually hurt.
“Football’s an interesting game. You’re always trying to hit people as hard as you can, never trying to hurt anybody. I didn’t know he was really hurt.”
OU settled for a field goal on that drive, managed only a field goal in the second half with Bradford watching from the sideline with his arm in a sling, and a late BYU touchdown beat the Sooners.
The shoulder injury wrecked Bradford’s season. It didn’t wreck his NFL future. The St. Louis Rams made Bradford the overall No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, he was the last of the bonus babies before the payment structure changed. Bradford played eight NFL seasons, made a ton of money and now is living the good life in Greater Oklahoma City, with his wife and children.
The paths of Bradford and Clawson have not crossed since that night under JerryWorld’s giant video board.
“Glad to hear Sam’s doing well,” Clawson said. “He’s a great dude.”
And Saturday, Clawson will share a field with a new generation of Sooners.
In a way, that 2009 BYU victory was a small block in the building of the Cougars’ presentation of being Big 12-worthy. BYU has been winning big games for much of the last 40-plus years, but beating such a highly-ranked, big-brand team as the Sooners, on a stage like the opening of JerryWorld, was one of the highlights.
“If you talk to people about BYU, there’s a certain brand that gets built over years and years of playing the game, and that came even way before my time,” Clawson said. “A lot of stepping stones. Grateful to be a part of that, helping build that BYU brand.”
Big game in BYU’s history. Big game in OU’s history, too.