Clay Warner will warm your innards
By Ryan Hickman
Behind every big operation there is someone who pulls the strings from behind the scenes, but never gets the recognition they deserve. For the Western Mustangs football team, that man is Clay Warner.
Clay has been slinging equipment for the Western football squad for 36 years and he's as old as, well, let's not go there. Before anyone gets their equipment for the football team, they have to go through Clay and often that encounter is not the most pleasant task. His prickly demeanor is his calling card because Clay won't back down from anyone just ask him.
"I don't take crap from anybody. I was that way before I ever came here," Clay barked.
Clay is one of a kind and so are the stories that are told about him. Defensive line coach and former Mustang Dave Shoebottom recalled a Homecoming weekend when he was playing and an inebriated student was making rude comments and lewd gestures to the cheerleaders, disturbing the crowd. Clay whisked in with a routine arm bar and took care of business.
"He came down on the field and I put him on his face," Clay said, confirming the tale.
Clay joined the Mustangs as their equipment manager after a tour of duty in Korea with the Canadian Armed Forces and was eventually stationed in London. J.P. Metras was the Mustangs head coach then, who Clay refers to as "The Bull."
When asked how long he had been here, Clay responded, "Since 1967, you figure that out."
Clay has been a part of every Vanier Cup winning team at Western, but said he cannot pin down the best team because he says the eras are so different. However, something will never change about the players in Clay's mind.
"Oh, yeah, they're all a bunch of dummies," he explains.
Clay Warner puts up an abrasive smoke screen in order to keep his self-respect. Behind his lashing tongue and irritability is a caring man that takes his job seriously to ensure only the best for the players.
"He's a softy who really means well. All week he's stubborn and unapproachable sometimes, but on game day, when it really matters, he is always there," team captain Graig Richter said concerning Clay's real personality.
The one story about Clay that everyone brings up is the disappearing act he pulls at the end of a close game. In old J.W. Little Stadium, Clay would get so nervous near the conclusion of a tight contest, he would take off under the stadium into his equipment room.
"I would shut the radio off and
shut the door. And when I heard the cheers, it was OK," Clay explained about his ritual.
Cindy Hinson, the team's student manager, who spends a large amount of quality time with Clay, uncovers the person players don't see much.
"When the guys come around he puts a little something on, but that's not really him," Hinson said.
Clay is a shorter man now than he used to be, with glasses perched on his nose in front of his delicate eyes. His voice, often mimicked, sounds like what would happen if you just lost your breath and tried to talk.
Clay is a man enthralled with his family and was deeply bruised on the inside when his wife passed away a couple of years ago. He fondly gushes about her now. The same glow comes to his aging face when he mentions his 15-year-old granddaughter who he loves spending time with.
Long-time athletic trainer Rob Walsh is Clay's best friend and even with all the complaints about the job, the coaches and the players, he said Clay's love for Western runs deep.
Clay Warner is Homecoming. On a weekend when the tradition, folklore and history of Western is at the forefront, this man who embodies Western's storied customs, serves as a link to the past.
While Clay won't fully admit he has gotten softer over the past couple of years, as he leaned back in his chair he at least acknowledged the possibility.
"Probably," he responded with a subtle grin.