Clay­pool draws strength in roots

Fam­ily, friends give rookie a boost

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - High School Football - BRIAN BATKO

The turkey was in the oven, ap­pe­tiz­ers were on the ta­ble and mi­mosas were flow­ing at the home of Chel and Khul Sanghera. It was the Sun­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing in Ab­bots­ford, Bri­tish Columbia, but din­ner couldn’t wait. There was a Steelers game to watch at 10 a. m. sharp.

While Chel was get­ting the spread ready, her long­time friend John Men­sah came to her with a pre­dic­tion about his son.

“He’s go­ing to get two touch­downs to­day,” he pro­claimed.

Sanghera told him that on this morn­ing, of all days, he should just thank the uni­verse that Chase Clay­pool has made it this far and be grate­ful that he’s an NFL wide re­ceiver.

“We’re happy,” she re­minded her guest. “Don’t be greedy.”

But Clay­pool’s fa­ther was hav­ing none of it and re­peated him­self that yes, No. 11 is go­ing to score not one but two touch­downs. Sure enough, less than an hour af­ter kick­off, Dad knew best. He turned to Sanghera again with an­other fore­cast: He’s go­ing to get two more.

Out of su­per­sti­tion, Sanghera wanted to play the same game and replied the same way, that they should all just be thrilled about the first two scores and ex­pect noth­ing more. But Sanghera has learned by now that the 22- yearold she and her hus­band have watched go from youth foot­ball leg­end who lived down the street to break­out rookie is al­ways sur­pass­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. Four touch­downs in his fourth NFL game, most by a Steeler since 1968, most ever by a Cana­dian player, with his par­ents and friends all watch­ing to­gether back home? Yeah, that sounds like Chase.

“Ev­ery­thing I felt for so long, and his mother, his fa­ther, my hus­band,” Sanghera said, “it’s like, ‘ I told you so!’ ”

‘ An anom­aly’ and fan fa­vorite

In Clay­pool’s home­town north of the bor­der, there aren’t a ton of foot­ball op­tions for kids. Chel Sanghera, known to many play­ers as “Mama Chel,” was the pres­i­dent of the Val­ley Com­mu­nity Foot­ball League, and her hus­band Khul coached their son, Ta­jan, on the Ab­bots­ford team. About 14 years ago, this week’s most cov­eted pickup in fan­tasy foot­ball started out as a wiry run­ning back Sanghera calls “the worst night­mare” for “Abby” op­po­nents.

Clay­pool’s dom­i­nance got to the point where Khul Sanghera didn’t bother us­ing him on first down and only played one side of the ball un­less it was a play­off or cham­pi­onship matchup. The most flak they ever took was the time Clay­pool scored 10 touch­downs in one game.

“He was known grow­ing up as some­one who is phe­nom­e­nal, an anom­aly,” re­mem­bered Sanghera, whose son played with Chase through high school and even had a pa­per route with him. “We had to uti­lize him very dif­fer­ently. Even for par­ents on our team, they think their kid is the su­per­star, but Chase is run­ning it in. We were ex­plain­ing that we didn’t think Chase was go­ing to do this.”

That’s why Sanghera, who was at Clay­pool’s draft party, doesn’t hes­i­tate to snap into “told you so” mode now. As she put it, many of those who used to give her “heat” about Clay­pool be­ing too good are now on his band­wagon. She’s do­ing her part, too, con­vert­ing friends and co­work­ers to Steelers fan­dom, and of course she has her own gear by now.

So does Kim Borza Don­ald­son in South Bend, Ind., where she’s Notre Dame’s se­nior di­rec­tor of ath­let­ics ad­vance­ment. She in­ter­acted with Clay­pool here and there dur­ing his Fight­ing Ir­ish ca­reer, but she also lived across the street from him five min­utes from

cam­pus — and she’s a West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia na­tive who rushed to or­der a new Steelers jersey with “Clay­pool” on the back.

“I’ve seen a cou­ple,” Borza Don­ald­son said with a laugh. “I don’t think I was the first. I might just be the new­est. But I’m sure there will be a lot more now.”

A Beaver Area High School grad­u­ate who played ten­nis at Pitt, Borza Don­ald­son was in­un­dated with text mes­sages and calls from Pitts­burgh friends when the Steelers drafted Clay­pool. She as­sured them Clay­pool would be a great fit for the city, on and off the field, but she had no idea she’d be proven right this quickly.

Nat­u­rally, as a “proud Yinzer,” she was in front of her TV watch­ing the game live Sun­day when her for­mer neigh­bor be­came a house­hold name.

“He was a great fig­ure in our com­mu­nity here in South Bend,” Borza Don­ald­son said. “And I will say, Chase was a won­der­ful neigh­bor. No com­plaints, no noise vi­o­la­tions or any­thing like that.”

In the wake of his break­out, Clay­pool was calm, cool and col­lected Wed­nes­day in ex­plain­ing how he’s stay­ing grounded. His friends con­grat­u­lated him, but then it was time to play “Call of Duty,” and there was no more foot­ball talk.

Still, he’s wasted lit­tle time be­com­ing one of the most pop­u­lar Steelers, just as he did in col­lege, and just as he did for a coun­try that’s known far more for hockey and even bas­ket­ball than it is Clay­pool’s sport.

“He loves foot­ball, but he also loves the uni­fi­ca­tion it does for us back home,” said Chel Sanghera, who also watched the sea­son opener with Clay­pool’s mom, Jas­mine. “He loves the sup­port, he loves the cheer­ing. We do TikTok videos for ev­ery touch­down, and he ap­pre­ci­ates that.”

Giv­ing up the ‘ glory’

Jas­mine Clay­pool al­ways will be Chase’s big­gest fan and vice versa. He and his mother have been too close for too long and been through too much to­gether for that to ever change. Still, he has “a vil­lage” be­hind him in Ab­bots­ford, ac­cord­ing to Chel Sanghera.

For her Thanks­giv­ing game watch, Chel and her hus­band hosted both of Clay­pool’s par­ents. It’s al­ways been that way, though for as long as the Sangheras have known Chase, his mom and dad have not been to­gether. Jas­mine raised him, but there’s a rea­son why, af­ter be­ing drafted, Clay­pool bought new cars for both her and his fa­ther and de­liv­ered them at the same Mother’s Day party.

“The whole way through, we’ve had af­tergame drinks, we fund- raise to­gether, we have Christ­mas gath­er­ings,” Sanghera said. “They co- par­ent re­ally well.”

There’s also Chase’s step­dad, Palmer Carvery, whose son Ja­cob Carvery was a col­lege foot­ball player in Canada and helped steer Chase to the game. Sev­eral more broth­ers and sis­ters on both sides al­ways have his back, too, and it works for the Clay­pools.

“He didn’t come from a mom and dad mar­i­tal unit, but you’ve seen them all there,” Sanghera said. “And they don’t fight, they just go there and they cheer and they’re on the same side.”

Chase has spo­ken openly about some of his hard­ships, most of all when his sis­ter, Ash­ley Clay­pool, died by sui­cide in Oc­to­ber 2011 when she was 17. Sanghera still re­mem­bers Jas­mine call­ing her right away, and the rib­bons the team wore in Ash­ley’s honor. Chase, who was 13, didn’t miss the next game, and he and all the play­ers wrote her name on their hel­mets.

This year, Clay­pool is writ­ing again. Ev­ery game so far, on the tape on his right wrist, he has writ­ten the let­ters UKO. They don’t stand for any­thing, but to him, they stand for ev­ery­thing.

Samwel Uko was two grades be­hind Clay­pool in school and foot­ball, a stand­out run­ning back in his own right who looked up to the col­lege re­cruit headed to Notre Dame. Uko al­ways wanted to “play up” in youth leagues, or at least prac­tice with the older team, and when he got to high school he fi­nally shared the field with his idol.

“When we were in com­mu­nity foot­ball, Chase was a run­ning back,” Uko told the

Van­cou­ver Sun in 2016. “I saw him play and I said ‘ Coach I want to be a run­ning back.’ ”

Uko, who dis­cov­ered foot­ball in mid­dle school af­ter mov­ing to Canada from South Su­dan, signed to play at the Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an and spent the 2018 sea­son there be­fore mov­ing on to an­other team. This past May, he was vis­it­ing fam­ily in an­other prov­ince when he sought help from a nearby hos­pi­tal. Per pub­lished re­ports, Uko was di­rected to a men­tal health clinic, then later turned away and phys­i­cally re­moved by se­cu­rity.

Later that night, Uko’s body was found in a lake. He was 20.

“He was a team­mate and a friend of mine for a pretty long time there,” Clay­pool, who also has been vo­cal about so­cial jus­tice and racial in­equal­ity, said Wed­nes­day. “I just like to write the name be­cause I couldn’t put it on the back of my hel­met, just to re­mem­ber his name. The com­mu­nity knows who he is and loved him, so I think it just means a lot for ev­ery­one if I go ahead and rep­re­sent his name for this sea­son.”

The Saskatchew­an Health Author­ity

apol­o­gized for “im­prop­erly deny­ing” care, and Sanghera calls it a “con­tro­ver­sial” case in Canada, given that Uko’s fam­ily has rec­om­mended more “cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity” and di­ver­sity in the health care sys­tem. And when it comes to men­tal health, “no­body knows it more than Chase, be­cause he’s seen it twice now,” Sanghera said.

Months be­fore Clay­pool’s star turn, his par­ents both called Sanghera about Uko’s death. A Go­FundMe page was set up to help with fu­neral ex­penses, and right away, Clay­pool do­nated. Through the good and bad times, he keeps find­ing ways to make his vil­lage proud.

“The fact that Chase is over there, and still, he’s not too big for Uko, that shows he’s re­ally grounded,” Sanghera said. “Af­ter the games, he does FaceTime his mom, and we all give him a lit­tle, ‘ Hey, great job!’ But he just smiles and nods. We’re telling him what he did, he knows what he did, but he kind of just lets us be in the glory.”

Peter Diana/ Post- Gazette

Sub­mit­ted photo

Khul Sanghera, from left, Jas­mine Clay­pool, Chel Sanghera, John Men­sah and Luis Gar­cia pose af­ter Chase Clay­pool’s four- touch­down break­out Sun­day against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles. The Sangheras and Gar­cia coached Clay­pool in youth foot­ball, and have re­mained friends with Clay­pool’s fa­ther, John, and mother, Jas­mine.

Peter Diana/ Post- Gazette

Chase Clay­pool shakes off a tackle en route to his sec­ond touch­down against the Ea­gles.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Chase Clay­pool and Chel Sanghera, a fam­ily friend and pres­i­dent of his youth foot­ball league in Ab­bots­ford, Canada.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.