Reigning Herald Player of the Year for boys soccer, Sherwood’s T.J. Clay, right, poses for a photo with his mother, Kelle Gooden, after signing with NAIA Point University in West Point. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — For T.J. Clay, there’s just something different, something elevating about being on a soccer field.
There’s no place like it.
“I’m in my world when I’m there,’’ said Clay, a senior at Sherwood Christian Academy who signed a letter-of-intent Wednesday to accept a soccer scholarship with Point University, where he will continue his career in soccer.
Clay was The Herald’s Player of the Year in Soccer last year as a junior and is the leading candidate to repeat. He has already scored six goals in two games this season and has scored 57 goals in his career.
He scored 33 goals last season, which led all of GISA, and he also had 12 assists. They are looking forward to seeing what he can do at Point, an NAIA school in West Point, Ga., near Lagrange.
“His athleticism and his overall versatility will help us a lot,’’ Point coach Saulo Franca said Wednesday. “We like the fact he will push our current players to excel. I’m expecting big things from him.’’
Clay has exceptional speed and is dangerous as a striker, but Franca said he liked Clay’s entire game.
“He does have speed, but I like his calm,’’ he said. “He’s very relaxed and controlled on the field.’’
Clay, who started for SCA’s football team as a receiver and also started on the basketball team, had offers from Mercer, Shorter and Fort Valley State to play football, but soccer is his first love.
“He has a passion for soccer,’’ SCA soccer coach Jeremy Davidson said. “He has played it his whole life. He’s lightning fast and he has a strong left foot.’’
Clay has a 3.3 GPA and plans to major in exercise science. He said it was a no-brainer to choose Point and soccer. He said he loved the campus when he visited and also liked the players and coaches. He thought about a football scholarship briefly, but ultimately went with his heart.
“Between football and basketball seasons I did think about it, but I don’t want to get my body all banged up playing football, and soccer is my sport,’’ he said. “I started playing when I was 6 and loved it from the beginning.’’
When Clay was in middle school, his coaches told him he might some day have a chance to get a college scholarship in soccer.
“That’s when my mom said, “Do not quit soccer,’ ” joked Clay after he signed with his mother, Kelle Gooden, at his side. “I started thinking about playing soccer in college about then, about eighth grade. I can’t believe this day is here. It’s a blessing and a dream come true.’’