Helping hands for Ravens, less fortunate

Wide receiver Clayton, showing knack for big play in past month, has 'huge heart' for underprivileged

November 29, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

On Tuesday, Mark Clayton passed out turkeys and Thanksgiving baskets to needy families at Diakon Place in East Baltimore.

Some 20 years ago, a very young Mark Clayton stood in a similar line to accept similar handouts in Oklahoma City.

For the Ravens wide receiver, 26, that juxtaposition represents a natural progression: from a young boy who had little to a mature young man who has a lot and is happy to share it with those who don't.

Even before Clayton was selected in the first round of the NFL draft in 2005 by the Ravens, he was committed to community work and to helping the disadvantaged. But once he became a professional athlete, his eyes were opened to the possibilities.

"That was the first thing I thought about," Clayton said yesterday. "When I first got drafted, I was scared because you're coming into all this money, and we never had money, my family. So accumulating the knowledge to deal with the position was kind of scary."

In four seasons, Clayton's football career has traveled along parallel tracks. As in his adolescence, he has had some rough spots - he didn't score a touchdown in 2007, and his catches dipped from 67 to 48. But in a new Ravens regime, he's beginning to find himself as a professional.

Clayton has averaged 21.3 yards a catch with two long touchdown receptions in his past four games. Previously, he averaged 7.5 yards a catch with no touchdown receptions this season.

The difference?

Missed opportunities early, wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said.

"We had him on two big passes in the first or second game and we don't hit him, or his numbers would have looked pretty good at the beginning of the year," Hostler said.

Clayton attributed it to the collective growth in Cam Cameron's offense, force-fed by the repetitions of 11 games. But Hostler acknowledged that Clayton has taken significant strides this season to the point where he might be the team's best all-around receiver.

"He understands every position. He can play all three spots," Hostler said. "He's grown tremendously. He has become probably my best overall player. Not taking anything away from Derrick [Mason] - Derrick's having a great year, and Derrick is our [go-to] guy - but overall, Mark is just an outstanding football player."

Clayton turned a reverse into a 42-yard touchdown run in the opener and has scoring catches of 47 and 53 yards among his 10 catches for 213 yards in the past month.

"I would say we are starting to be on a little bit better page with each other," quarterback Joe Flacco said, "but Mark has been doing a great job all year. ... We're starting to realize how different people fit in different situations."

Clayton has impressed the Ravens with his off-field work ethic as well. His Mark Clayton Foundation is aimed at assisting foster children. He helps teammates at various community functions, and Tuesday he joined Ray Lewis, Daniel Wilcox and Derrick Martin at Diakon Place on the corner of North Avenue and Broadway.

"He's got a huge heart," Hostler said. "Obviously, his faith is tremendous, and that shows up in every aspect of what he does. His actions speak louder than his words."

Growing up in Oklahoma City and later Arlington, Texas, with two siblings, his mother, JacQuetta Clayton, and a stepfather, Clayton said he didn't realize how poor he was until he went to college at Oklahoma.

"My mom did such a good job," he said. "My sister and brother and I enjoyed ourselves. We thought sleeping on floors and making pallets was normal.

"At one point, we were in that line to receive that food."

So it was with a sense of gratitude that Clayton stood with Lewis handing out turkeys from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Diakon, his feet burning and his back aching. His life journey has brought him to a peaceful place.

"It allows me not to worry about anything, to just enjoy where I'm at, enjoy my friends, enjoy my family," he said. "And give as much as I can."

NOTES: : The NFL has changed the Ravens' Dec. 14 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 4:15 p.m. start on CBS. ... The Ravens list left tackle Jared Gaither (shoulder) and right tackle Willie Anderson (ankle) as probable for tomorrow's game in Cincinnati. Clayton (back), cornerback Samari Rolle (thigh) and tackle Adam Terry (concussion) are listed as questionable.

RAVENS (7-4) @BENGALS (1-9-1)

Tomorrow, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 7

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