By Todd Vinyard
Three-year old Blake Clingan knows when there is football being played his dad Jason should be on the field.
Jason, a sophomore strong safety at Ole Miss, went with his son Blake to a Pontotoc High School game. Blake, as youngsters are prone to do, asked a question.
"He wanted to know why I was in the stands instead of playing," Clingan said.
Clingan's Pontotoc Warrior playing days are finished, but not before he set Pontotoc records for most touchdowns and most receiving yards. Clingan is now beginning his Ole Miss career as a defensive player in full force after switching from receiver a year ago.
"I have been playing 15 snaps a game and last week I played 54," Clingan said. "That is the most I have played since high school. I really didn't expect to start playing so soon. I thought it might be another year."
There are a few things Clingan feels he could improve on including picking up crossing patterns and coming up to the ball better. Clingan's two tackles against Vanderbilt may not jump off the stat sheet, but Ole Miss coaches were most impressed that in his first start he didn't make a critical mistake to cost the team points. The performance was good enough to once again earn Clingan the starting nod when Ole Miss visits Tennessee Saturday.
"Jason played well, and he can play better. The sky's the limit for him," Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville said.
Clingan and Ronnie Heard share time at the strong safety spot.
"Both of them complement each other real well," Tuberville said. "Jason is probably a better tackler even though he was an offensive player."
Clingan says he never thought he would be playing defense for the Rebels. But knowing Clingan's past, he has proven an ability to adjust to any circumstances.
Besides the time demands of being a student, Clingan is married to the former Allison Brady of Pontotoc and has a son. Allison is plenty busy herself. She is an elementary education major and works at University Florist in Oxford.
"There are late days sometimes by the time I get back from football, and then we have to study," Jason said. "It makes you really appreciate off days."
Most of Clingan's off days have centered around learning defense. Ole Miss defensive coordinator Art Kaufman says becoming a reaction player poises the biggest challenge for a player changing sides of the ball.
"You are a reaction player now. On offense you are basically an assignment player, and you know what you are going to do," Kaufman said. "On defense you know where you are lined up, but you don't know what the other guy is going to do. I am sure that has been the hardest thing for Jason."
The coach is right. Clingan says one-on-one coverage is the hardest part of playing defense. Clingan says his speed is more along the lines of a long stride instead of quick steps needed to keep up with the fleet of foot in the SEC.
"Coach Kaufman and Coach Tuberville have worked with me," Clingan said. "I have to make sure I get in the right position and try to slow guys down on the line of scrimmage so I can keep up with them later."
Keeping up with people should be a snap for Clingan. He was a two-year state champion in the 100 meter hurdles and 330 intermediate hurdles. Clingan's freshman year at Ole Miss he placed eighth in the 110 meter hurdles (14.75) at the 1996 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Clingan is quick to pass around credit for the balancing act that has become his college career. Allison says having both sets of their parents nearby has been a huge help.
"Blake is able to stay with our parents and that helps as far as baby sitting bills and knowing he is with someone we trust," Allison says.
Jason says players come over to the Clingans' home in the married student housing section of the Ole Miss campus and have accepted Allison.
"That has made it easier for me to know that they accept me and like coming over," Allison said. "The players love to come over and play with Blake. He is a big hit."
Blake and Allison go to all the home games, and Allison tries to attend the away games. When Blake watches the Rebels play Tennessee at 2:30 p.m on CBS Saturday his dad will be in right spot playing football.