DAN VANCE: Remembering Clayten Stuart

Bishop Dwenger’s Clayten Stuart

It is rare that we make Outside the Huddle in any way about us. But this is a rare moment. And as writers, this is what we are here for, to share our hearts and stories of others. So here I am today, to get out what I have to say about Clayten Stuart.

A 15 year old freshman football captain for Bishop Dwenger, we lost Clayten two weeks ago. He was put to rest this week with a wonderful outpouring of love from those who knew him best and those who respected him most.

My heart doesn’t know how to fathom those sentences; it is why I took my time coming up with the right words to share. My mind though thinks so much about what he, as just as kid, did for me and so many other lives he touched. Just last night we saw that in the semi state round of the Class 2A playoffs; one of his dear friends Brayden McInturf of Bishop Luers scoring on a pick six after recently switching to Clayten’s #34 and pointing to the heavens in the end zone.

So today, I am making OTH about Clayten. Because I need it to be and because he deserves it to be.

Below are the words I have been working to come up with. They are words I shared this week with Clayten’s family and friends this week as we celebrated his life:

Many of the thoughts I have to say are ones that others have shared and will be shared. But I think that speaks to the quality and consistency of Clayten Stuart as an athlete and as a human being.

I first met Clayten as his baseball coach at Georgetown Little League. He walked into tryouts with that signature Clayten swagger. I didn’t even know what that was at that point, but it didn’t take long to figure out. And he had on these black tights under his shorts with neon green skeleton print on them. And of course, Clayten at 10 years old, those tights weren’t exactly tight; instead just hanging off his skinny body, long before the muscle he had as a high school freshman. I don’t think I had ever seen someone try out for little league baseball looking like that before but it struck a cord. There are a lot coaches who know, sometimes there is just a kid though that sparks something, where you have to have that kid on your team. That day, Clayten sparked something with his actions and activity.

I could have never have guessed how great of a decision that was to draft him. Because over the last five years, Clayten and the Stuarts became family. We spent two baseball seasons and two basketball seasons together laughing, and also crying in spots too. Those moments will always be some of my favorite coaching moments of my life because how do you not have fun coaching Clayten Stuart?

Fundamentally, you won’t come across many people in life more reliable than Clayten Stuart. He was a cornerstone in every relationship he had. Be it with his parents Jason and Melissa, his sister Karagen, his brothers Jordan and Hayden or even me and my son, Ayden. The same could be said for so many others. He was the kind of kid you want your kids to be. By actions, by character, he was a role model whether you were a peer, younger or older.

You could absolutely rely on Clayten to be there in those moments that matter. In those clutch moments of life, far beyond a baseball field or basketball court or a football field, Clayten just had your back. No matter where you were, he had you.

Those who knew Clayten knew him well because the kid never met a stranger. He would interact with everyone and anyone and try to do it on their level. And he was successful in that because he had so many unique levels of personality. He was emotional and sweet….jovial and ridiculous…tough and gruff. There was a version of Clayten for everyone and for every moment.

Our last conversation occurred over Instagram messages, where Clayten would take to over the years to remind me it was time for one of our many trips to B-dubs with his dad and my son Ayden. This message was different though, instead it was him telling me it was time for a game of one on one on the basketball court. I reminded him his muscle wasn’t quite ready for that yet, he called himself the White Mamba in return. That version of Clayten was magnificent. He was just wild and goofy.

But while I love that Clayten, I will forever admire the the focused version. The effort Clayten would put into being that person for everyone he could was astounding. But Clayten put that level of effort into everything. He could never work hard enough, be strong enough, be fast enough. If Clayten gave, on a Monday, what he thought to be 100 percent effort in what he did, then on Tuesday he would have to redefine what 100 percent meant. He always felt like and knew that he could be better, do better, work harder. I have coached a lot of kids over a 17 year span of all ages on multiple levels…nobody had the natural work ethic and drive that Clayten had.

Clayten Stuart was going to be a star and nobody will be able to convince me otherwise. Yes, an athlete…but Clayten Stuart was going to be a star no matter what he did in life, no matter when the bright lights of athletic competition ceased. You were going to hear a lot about him in the media some day. I was supposed to be interviewing him on Friday nights at Shields Field. Knowing the love permeating from his family, he was probably due a few Player of the Night fan vote wins along the way. His enthusiasm, motor and spirit just shined so brightly.

And if all of what I’ve mentioned ever failed, Clayten was still the best friend you could have. He means, and always will, so much to his friends. Clayten means the world to my son. The outpouring of friends and community from Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers and other schools has been beautiful because he was a friend to them all. And that matters most, that quality of a friend.

The frailties of life are real, they are vivid. But Clayten’s life and his friendship –  above all else – should teach us all to find those who work hard, play hard and love hard; then surround yourself with those people. I will always be grateful for the shared moments – the games, the dinners, the car rides, the visits – he lived wholly in those moments. Clayten Stuart was an anomaly and I will always be thankful for the impact I felt and watch him make.

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