His mom, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Clay was in high school, recently moved to Boise to live with family.
All indications are senior Brian Clay will be making his first start for the Huskies against No. 23 Boise State on Friday night, and there is no one he would rather share that night with than his mom, Mary Jane.
In a rare treat, she will be there in person.
“In all that blue and orange,” he said, “she’s going to be wearing purple. It’s going to be awesome.”
Clay was high school sophomore in Vacaville, Calif., when his mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Soon, she began getting treatment at the University of Washington’s renowned Multiple Sclerosis Center, which ultimately set off Clay’s roundabout journey from northern California to Hawaii to Seattle.
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A scholarship safety at Hawaii, Clay left Honolulu two years ago, arriving at UW as a walk-on in large part to join his mom in her right.
“I wanted to be close to her,” he said. “I was 3,000 miles away, and I can’t see her, she can’t see me. …
“I always wanted to help out as much as I could. It made me mature a lot faster when I was younger. I had to step up for my family, and I’m still doing that today.”
Mary Jane, who is confined to a wheelchair, recently moved from northern California back to Boise, where she grew up, to live with her sister.
“MS, it’s a hell of a disease, but she’s fighting it,” Clay said. “Me and my mother are close — that’s my biggest motivation right there.”
He will have 14 or 15 family members in attendance Friday night. A special-teams standout for UW last season, Clay is listed atop UW’s depth chart at strong safety this week.
“This is my last season and I want to just give it everything I have,” he said.
At the urging of coach Chris Petersen, Clay and veteran running back Deontae Cooper missed a week of fall camp while finishing up the summer school for their graduate-level courses in UW’s Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership Program. They often spent nine hours a day in a classroom, and Clay said he finished 48 credits over the summer. His goal is to be a director of player personnel one day.
Clay was awarded a scholarship from UW coaches a year ago.
“He’s earned a lot of trust from us as coaches, just with him really selling himself on special teams and doing everything,” UW secondary coach Jimmy Lake said. “That’s the ultimate sacrifice for our team. … Now on defense, he’s really earned our trust of knowing the calls inside and out, being in the right place, playing physical, making all the calls. He’s done an excellent job and I’m excited to watch him go out there and play.”
Clay has been competing with redshirt freshman Jojo McIntosh, junior-college transfer Ezekiel Turner and junior Trevor Walker for time at strong safety. They’re expected to be part of a regular rotation early in the season.
“We definitely have clicked a lot more this year, just for the fact that we have a year with the defense under our belt, we have a year with each other under our belt,” Clay said. “We can get a lot more sophisticated in our coverages and our communication, and it just makes everything a lot smoother.”
The defensive secondary was UW’s most significant question mark a year ago. Now it’s an area of strength.
“Last year, our D-line and our linebackers were stout and we were the young pups. We could a little bit more rely on them because we knew they were going to get coverage sacks and stuff like that,” Clay said. “This year, we’re going to have to hold up our end a lot more. We have a lot of young guys stepping up at linebacker and D-line, so I still think we’re still going to be just fine.”