After up-and-down NFL career, Michael Clayton winning in life

Dressed in a three-piece suit and a purple shirt, Michael Clayton looks like a businessman, which he is.

The former LSU and NFL wide receiver returned to Baton Rouge last week to help his other alma mater, Class 1A Christian Life Academy, celebrate homecoming.

Clayton still has a bright smile and an intense manner that gave him, well, just about everything, including a national championship at LSU in 2003 and a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in 2011-12.

“As you can see, I still love purple,” the 30-year-old Clayton told students at a Friday morning chapel service. “In fact, I wear purple whenever I go speak to a group.”

Though much of his message to students and faculty was based on his religious beliefs, Clayton’s story is one that today’s high school stars should learn from.

He’s written a book appropriately titled “Chasing My Rookie Year,” set to be published in the weeks ahead.

“It’s mainly about what I went through in high school and a couple of incidents that were life-changing for me,” Clayton said. “I talk about some of the good moments that helped shape me. It’s about my great rookie year and then six years of turmoil with the Bucs, how I got past that and where I am today.”

In 2000-01, Clayton was one of Louisiana’s brightest high school stars, earning all-state honors in football and basketball. He earned Parade All-America honors in football and was one of the nation’s top wide receiver recruits.

After helping LSU win a national title as a junior, he was drafted No. 15 by the Bucs in 2004. He caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, and was immediately pegged for stardom. But it never happened.

Clayton never came close to duplicating those numbers. He finished his eight-year career with 223 catches for 2,955 yards and 10 TDs. Garnering a Super Bowl ring with the Giants in a reserve role provided a sweet finish after a tumultuous time.

Along the way, the media criticized Clayton, and he had his share of conflicts with coaches and even himself.

After he was released by the Bucs, a brief stint with a UFL team in Nebraska sparked rumors of financial problems, which Clayton said were untrue.

All the ups and downs helped Clayton find a purpose away from football. He lives in the Tampa area. His wife is a pediatrician. He has three children, real estate ventures, does charity work and speaks to a cross-section of groups, including prison inmates and at-risk teens.

“A lot of my message revolves around religion, but I think there are things everyone can take from it,” Clayton said. “You have to know and understand your purpose. Life isn’t going to be perfect. You have to have a values system that gives you a solid foundation.”

Clayton used sliced-up lemons and a pitcher as a metaphor, imploring the CLA students to turn those “lemons” into lemonade.

When Clayton talks about life, he means a life in sports.

“Me and my friends all had the same dream,” Clayton said. “I worked to be the best I could possibly be in sports. Sports are a wonderful thing, especially here in Louisiana. Everybody loves football here.

“But they’re also a dangerous thing because some days things don’t go your way. And some day they will end and you need to be ready for that.”

Without naming names, Clayton referenced other athletes who squandered their earnings and treated people badly before ending up with little once the stadium lights went out.

“They never got the memo … it’s not always about you,” Clayton said. “You have to have a purpose.”

Yes, Clayton got the memo.