Celebrating Athletic Excellence: Hot Spring County’s Dylan Clayton

By Dr. Robert Reising

“When football no longer has the need for players like him, I will quit coaching. He was a model team player,” proclaimed Todd Knight, the longest-serving college coach in Arkansas, when recently queried about a Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) player no longer in his program. Then in equally serious tones, the acclaimed coach added, “I’d love to have him as my physician when he completes medical school.” 

Head Football Coach Knight is not alone on his campus in praising Bismarck High School graduate Dylan Clayton. “He helped us win two conference championships,” volunteered Brian Ramsey, the University’s Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, and Dr. Tim Knight, Dean of OBU’s J. D. Patterson School of Natural Sciences, contended that “Dylan is not only a model student, but he is also a model person. He is a great young man who is highly respected by his peers and faculty for his strong work ethic.” Truly the 21-year-old, who terms himself “a child of separation,” has displayed excellence in the past suggesting nothing less in the future.

Clayton was born in July 2001 in Malvern, where in his first years of formal education he performed handsomely while whetting his appetite for organized, competitive sports. Baseball was his first interest. At age 7, thanks to a baseball pitching machine, Dylan launched a summer playing career that lasted through his first year at Bismarck High, where he captained the squad. But by fourth grade, basketball — his father’s favorite sport — had gained his respect, and soon thereafter he was a member of several Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams. By junior high school, and just before leaving Malvern, never forsaking superior classroom grades, he had joined the track team and competed in several district and state competitions. 

Finally yielding to the lure of “Woo Pig Sooie” that he had first consciously enjoyed in 2011, Dylan tried his hand at football in Malvern, took to the sport, and soon came to value it as his favorite. His play quickly became superior. But the unsettled and the unsettling, as well as the tragic, interrupted. In 2015 his parents separated and he moved to Bismarck to live with his grandparents. Two years later, in 2017, his father was murdered which was a shocking, life-changing tragedy for Dylan.

Adulthood visited immediately. Immersed in discord, change and sorrow, Dylan proved unshakeable, continuing to showcase brilliance in the classroom and on the gridiron as well as in track and basketball, which he also captained. In football, he performed on “both sides of the ball for four quarters, “earning media labels like “Bismarck’s … Gridiron Ironman.” The 6’,4”, 225 pounder confessed to a “1000+ All-Purpose Yards offensively and [making] 440 solo tackles defensively, playing all positions except defensive tackle.” Yet he admits that “after the first quarter, I’m tired, but it’s not about me and how I feel. I play for the town I represent. I want to win more than my body tells me that I do.” Predictably, honors followed, including in 2016, selection as a “Hooten’s Scholar Athlete of the Week” and election to the 501 LIFE Football Team presented by this magazine.  

His quest for excellence allowed him to complete the school’s most challenging courses, many of them In Advanced Placement, and to graduate in 2019 with Honors and a 4.1 GPA. That quest impressed his classmates, who elected him Class President, and he was also salutatorian. Accompanying him to the podium, too, was an academic/football scholarship at OBU.

Once on the campus, Dylan declared a pre-medicine major in biology, and prepared for baccalaureate completion this fall and medical school thereafter, to prepare for a career as an anesthesiologist. His years and interactions with his grandmother, a cancer patient with various auto-immune diseases, had converted his fascination with medicine into a love for it. Simultaneously, he concluded that his personal losses and a career in medicine would allow him opportunities to assist children without stable homes or father figures in their lives. His anguish, he planned to convert into an asset. 

As a newcomer to Coach Knight’s offensive and defensive alignments and maneuvers, Dylan expected to clock little, if any, playing time in his first football season. Nonetheless, he plunged into practice assignments with the same indefatigable zeal that had characterized his Bismarck play. On the practice field, his loyalty was to his university, not to himself and his feelings. His top priority was a victory for his team. Respect from both coaches and teammates was inevitable, and as he played, he envisioned a bright OBU football future.

His academic performance benefited from similar dedication, and his grades were like those of the past. His sophomore year, however, introduced him and thousands of other student-athletes across the nation to an agonizing calamity: the cancellation of all inter-school competitions. The pandemic of 2020 eliminated a season of OBU football as well as some classes required in Dylan’s pre-med program; simultaneously, it scrambled Dylan’s timetable for preparing for the daunting Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and hence for entering medical school. Reluctantly, he conceded that his second season of football, 2021, would be his last, that a third year of play would decimate his top priority: a career in medicine.

After consulting his football coaches, all of whom agreed with his decision, he gave tirelessly as a versatile reserve in his second, and final, season of intercollegiate football. He appeared and caught a pass in his second OBU contest. Financial aid from that sport disappeared at year’s end and relying on his academic scholarship and monies from summer jobs and grants from the institution’s donors, he devoted all his energies to his studies, in which he currently carries a near-perfect 3.9 GPA. The baccalaureate this December will precede the MCAT in March and medical school in the fall of 2024.

Dylan’s past of vision, resolve and achievement continues to transition smoothly into a future of commitment, service and self-fulfillment. For decades to come, his priorities and perseverance will elicit respect and pride in Hot Spring County and the 501.

Bob Reising