SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Tattooed in cursive lettering around his bulging right biceps, Notre Dame senior wide receiver Chase Claypool wears a permanent reminder of his sister's life that was cut too short.
"A thousand tears won't bring you back, I know because I've cried," it reads. "Neither will a thousand words, I know because I've tried. Until we meet again."
Claypool lost his older sister of two years, Ashley, a little more than seven years ago to suicide. Ashley was still in high school.
"Just the idea of her looking down on me is motivation in itself," Claypool said.
If any good could come from this tragedy, Claypool said the loss of his sister pulled him closer to his mother, and also brought some extra appreciation and commitment to his athletic and academic responsibilities.
"Not letting my mom down and not letting my sister down," Claypool said, "that's the driving reason to go out and give my all every day."
Claypool has become Notre Dame's best wide receiver this season and the go-to target for quarterback Ian Book when a clutch play is needed most.
No. 15 Notre Dame (6-2) heads into its game Saturday at Duke (4-4) with Claypool as the team's leader in receiving yards (554) and receptions. The 37 catches are only eight fewer than all other Irish wide receivers have combined for this season. Claypool also has four touchdowns.
During a 21-20 comeback win last Saturday against Virginia Tech, Claypool recorded eight receptions for 118 yards, including a 26-yard catch on a 4th-and-10 that kept a fourth-quarter drive alive and set up Book's game-winning touchdown run with 29 seconds left.
Claypool dropped a pass on the first play of that game-winning drive and said afterward that he appreciated the faith Book showed in throwing to him again on the all-or-nothing 4th-down play.
"Even the times I don't make the plays, (Book) will come back to me," Claypool said, "which just adds to the trust that I have in him and he has in me."
Clayoool's reliability and versatility creates a similar trust from the Irish coaches. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he is also Notre Dame's best special teams player. Claypool has 23 career tackles on coverage teams and he recovered a muffed punt earlier this season against Georgia that set up a Notre Dame score.
Considering NFL rosters carry only 53 players, scouting analyst Scott Wright, president and founder of NFLDraftCountdown.com, believes Claypool's work on special teams will help to separate him from many of the other wide receivers in the 2020 draft class.
"Claypool is going to have a long career in the NFL even if he never contributes on offense due to his incredible ability as a special teams ace," Wright explained. "But there is a whole lot of upside too for him as a pass catcher due to his size and athleticism."
Claypool, from Abbotsford, an hour east of Vancouver, is one of only eight Canadian players ever to suit up for Notre Dame. If he is drafted next spring, he will join Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown as Irish receivers selected in three consecutive drafts, a feat that has happened only twice for Notre Dame (1964-66, 1994-96).
Boykin, a 2019 second-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens, believes Claypool might have the highest upside of the three receivers.
"He's mature. He has all the tools," Boykin said of his former teammate. "I just think it's his time."
The high praise from Boykin wasn't lost on Claypool.
"It means a lot knowing I have the support from my former teammates," he said. "It gives me something to live up to. If I fall anything short of that, it's a disappointment. I strive for that every day."
Working against Claypool in practice the last three years has given Irish cornerback Troy Pride Jr. firsthand perspective on how talented his rival and teammate is.
"He can embarrass you blocking, he can run by you, he can catch over you," Pride said. "So it's a very tough challenge for any defense to face."
Coach Brian Kelly praised Claypool for making big plays — even when the defense knows he's going to be the target.
"He's a warrior, he plays so hard," he said.
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