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East Carter's Clay Morris stands with Raiders teammates during team picture day on Aug. 3.

KEVIN GOLDY | THE DAILY INDEPENDENT

GRAYSON – Clay Morris wasn’t about to miss the final drive of East Carter football’s first playoff game in a decade.

A junior guard last season, Morris hurt his knee during the third quarter against Harrison County in their first-round Class 4A matchup.

“I felt something weird, but it didn’t really affect my running,” Morris recalled. “I talked to our athletic trainer.”

Morris continued playing and the Raiders, down 12-6, mounted a late surge in Cynthiana.

“That last drive we were running 35 Black,” he said of a play designed to follow the blocking of Morris and senior Luke Sparks. “I was going to block and it (knee) popped.”

Morris went to the sideline briefly.

“He came out for a play, walked it off, and played the last eight or so plays with (what turned out to be) a torn ACL,” East Carter coach Tim Champlin said. “Grit and heart. Clay didn’t want to come out. He just found a way.”

Though East Carter’s late scoring bid came up short, Morris had no regrets.

“That was the first time we had been to the playoffs since (2008),” he said. “I knew I was going to give everything I had out there.”

Morris underwent surgery in December with the goal of returning ahead of his senior season.

Mission accomplished.

After months of rehab, Morris was released to participate in full contact just before team camp. He said he came through the rigorous week without problem.

“The knee feels pretty good,” Morris said during the team’s photo day. ”There was a second of hesitation at first, but I knew if I held back I could end up hurting myself.”

The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder is the lone returning starter on East Carter’s offensive line.

Morris knows much is expected of him in a leadership role, especially on the offensive front.

“It puts a lot of weight on my shoulders knowing I have to show these guys how to do things,” he said. “A couple, like Jarrod (Conley) and Jacob (Carter), played some snaps. Our seniors last year were healthy, so other guys didn’t get many reps.”

Originally a tight end, Morris shifted to offensive guard during his sophomore year. He became a starter last season and helped pave the way for a productive running attack as the Raiders finished 5-5.

“Being a pulling team, we rely heavily on our guards and center,” Champlin said. “Clay’s athletic and moves well.”

Morris expressed thanks to East Carter assistant coach Cory Jones and wife Holly — his guardians for about the last year and a half.

“They’ve been big inspirations to me,” Morris said. “Just the way they live and the things they try to teach me.”

Champlin called it a “phenomenal situation.”

“Clay’s a great kid. He’s kind of the voice of our football team,” the coach said. “He can keep them lighthearted. You need those people.”

Morris described himself as “pretty loud and vocal in the locker room. I try to get everyone going. Outside of practice, I’m kind of quiet.”

He’s hoping the Raiders can make some more noise on the field after ending their playoff drought.

“This team is really looking forward to what we are going to put out there this season,” Morris said. “East Carter has always been a team the others mark down as a ‘W.’ We’re trying to change that around.”

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