University of Miami tight end Clive Walford didn’t see his parents much while growing up.
His dad, Clive Sr., delivered goods across the country as a truck driver for Walmart. His mother, Yvette Wilson, now a Burger King store manager in West Palm Beach, worked 50 hours a week at fast-food chains or gas stations.
Now a father himself, Walford had to make a tough choice regarding a pro football career.
“I want to make sure my little man has a better younger life than I did,” Walford said this week. “I want to be a better father than my father was and just be able to give my son everything he needs and everything he wants.”
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So instead of leaving UM after his junior season last year for an immediate NFL payday (he was projected as a late-round draft pick), Walford, 23, opted to stay for his fifth and final season to put himself in a better position to succeed.
He has certainly done that. He earned his degree in sports administration last December and has spent the past year raising his now 1-year-old son, Clive III, with his fiancée in their off-campus apartment.
Tuesday, Walford (6-4, 258) was named one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end. NFLDraftScout.com ranked him the second-best draft-eligible tight end. Scouts say Walford could be selected as early as the second round.
So staying in school clearly was a wise decision.
“You’ve got to really look at yourself in the mirror, look at what you did the previous years and ask yourself [if you’re] really ready to take that step and move to the professional level?” Walford said. “I looked at myself and I thought there were some things I could still learn, things I could work on in my craft. And I’m still learning.”
Most receptions by tight end in UM history
Kellen Winslow Jr. (2001-03)
Clive Walford (2011-14)
Willie Smith (1984-86)
Glenn Dennison (1981-83)
Greg Olsen (2004-06)
Still, his growth has been immeasurable. Coach Al Golden said Tuesday no player has improved more than Walford in Golden’s four years at Miami.
He leads the Hurricanes in catches this season and is two grabs shy of tying Kellen Winslow Jr. for career catches by a UM tight end (119). Walford is already the most prolific tight end at UM in terms of receiving yards (1,704).
This season, he leads the nation with a 15.7-yard-per-catch average among tight ends with at least 20 catches, and is tied for second among tight ends with seven touchdown receptions.
Walford’s numbers (40 catches, 627 yards, 7 TDs) stack up pretty well against the other two finalists for the Mackey: Florida State’s Nick O’Leary (40 catches, 465 yards, 3 TDs) and Minnesota’s Maxx Williams (28 catches, 418 yards, 7 TDs).
“I’m sure you guys could check [off] the boxes as you go along,” Golden said of Walford’s improvement as a senior. “He’s a better route-runner in space. He’s starting to run away from people now – not only when he ran away from Florida State [for a 61-yard touchdown], but when he tracked down the [blocked] field goal [and made the tackle at Virginia].
“His in-line blocking as a line-of-scrimmage guy [has improved], second-level blocking as a fullback or H-back. The ability to motion out and get a matchup. The intellect to understand the game at that level. He’s really maxing out right now.”
Leadership is where Walford feels like he has grown most. Once a quiet guy, he has become a vocal leader in the locker room and in team meetings. After UM’s crushing loss Saturday at Virginia, Walford implored the team to win this Saturday’s regular-season finale against Pitt (5-6) at Sun Life Stadium not for the seniors, but for Golden, who has come under fire for the program’s struggles.
That loud leader is a stark contrast from the kid Wilson raised as a single mother of three in Belle Glade, Fla.
“Honestly, I never envisioned this,” said Wilson, who forbade her youngest from playing football until he begged her during his junior year of high school. “Where I came from we only had one street light. He would have to walk past that light to get to where they played basketball. I never wanted him to walk across the light because I didn’t want to get the wrong kind of phone call.”
Her son, she says, has earned all of his success in football on his own. He didn’t play any meaningful snaps of football until his senior year at Glades Central High. He wasn’t even ranked by Rivals.com among the top 40 recruits at his position.
When former recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt offered him a scholarship to play at UM, Walford had three scholarship offers in basketball to small schools and interest in football from West Virginia, Rutgers, USF and FIU. He was seen as a project.
Saturday, Walford will run through the smoke for the final time at Sun Life Stadium knowing he has become one of the best tight ends in UM history.
“What am I thankful for this year? To be able to wear this ‘U’,” he said. “I know I’m going to feel some type of way knowing it’s going to be my last time running through the smoke with my brothers. But I don’t think I’ll drop a tear. I ain’t going to cry.”
That doesn’t mean his mother and fiancée won’t shed tears. They are proud of the man he has become and aren’t going to stop pushing him to get better.
“I know he’s improved in a lot of things and I’m very proud of him,” Wilson said. “ I just want him to work a little bit more on blocking. There are some big men out there in the NFL.”