Kick the ball to Clyburn, if you dare
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Opposing teams paid the ultimate compliment to Terrence Clyburn. They kicked the football away from him.
Yet, that strategy didn’t work every time.
Clyburn, a North Mecklenburg High senior, was a dangerous, electrifying threat on kickoff and punt returns. He returned five kicks – three kickoffs and two punts – for touchdowns, despite it being a top priority for other teams to avoid that from happening.
Clyburn is the Herald Weekly’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
His talent was apparent from the beginning. Clyburn returned a punt for 78 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Olympic, part of his four-touchdown performance that night.
“That was my favorite play of the year,” Clyburn said. “The Olympic punter kicked it, I caught it, ran over to the right and I remembered coach (Frank) Crockett telling me the middle was wide open.
“All I had to do was make that first move on one guy, make a move on another dude and make him fall and the middle was open.”
That was all most teams had to see. A lot of ensuing punts went out of bounds.
“After the first game, nobody would punt to me,” Clyburn said.
Kickoffs were a different story. If the ball didn’t reach the end zone, Clyburn was returning it. His strategy was, well, to improvise.
“We didn’t really have blocking (strategies) on our kick returns,” he said. “I’d set the kickoff team up, run one way, then as soon as that first person got by me, I’d just cut across the field. Or, if I saw a small seam somewhere, I’d get to it.
“They never kicked the ball right to me. I had to go get the ball, wherever it was. If they kicked it to the right, I’d run to the left. Or, if they kicked left, I went right.”
Some teams opted to squib kickoffs, to ensure someone other than Clyburn returned it.
He was one of the area’s top threats, on special teams and offense. Clyburn led North Mecklenburg with 56 receptions for 642 yards and five touchdowns. He ran 48 times for 307 yards and five scores, and had three interceptions as a defensive back.
The Vikings strategy – get the ball to Clyburn – was the exact opposite of the other teams. Ironically, he struggled with punt returns as a junior.
“I started kickoff returns last year,” Clyburn said. “I did punt returns, but they took me off it because I muffed a couple. I worked on it during the summer.
“In the past, on punt returns I was kind of nervous. Now, I don’t get nervous playing football anymore. I go out to play and have fun, with a smile on my face.”