Former U-High basketball player now an elite sprinter

Photo credit: Nico Klementzos

BATON ROUGE — A University High graduate recruited to play basketball is blazing another path on the track as one of the fastest sprinters in the country.

He also happens to be the son of District Attorney Tony Clayton.

Despite only running track in college for a little over a year, Rhodes College’s TJ Clayton finished his track season in sixth place in the 100-meter dash in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships that wrapped up on May 27.

Clayton arrived at Rhodes primed to be a force on the basketball court, but a conference meet Clayton’s first year, changed his athletic trajectory.

“I got recruited to play basketball and freshman year, we had a conference championship for track and the track coach went to my basketball coach and said we need somebody who can jump high for a week,” the neuroscience major recalled. “My coach delegated me to do that.”

Clayton said he liked that experience and competed in three or four meets his sophomore year. Then, an injury to a teammate opened everyone’s eyes to his untapped potential as a sprinter.

“During conference (meet), my best friend at the time got hurt, and I was an alternate,” he said. “I had to fill in, so with no training, I ran a 10.89 and they were like, you need to stick with this and stop playing basketball. From there, I didn’t look back. I put down the basketball and picked up the spikes.”

Photo by Nico Klementzos

Clayton finished fifth in that race back in April 2022. From there, he said he began the scientific work to improve at the craft.

“It was a lot of research and I have to credit Aaron Earnest; he’s a star-studded sprinter. He ran at LSU,” Clayton said. “He took me under his wing last summer and kind of jumpstarted the battery for my track career. From there, I started doing a lot of my own research and applying it.”

This outdoor season, Clayton won four of the nine meets he competed in the 100 and finished second in another. In the national meet, he finished sixth with a time of 10.44, his personal best.

“Pure adrenaline,” he said of his last race. “I can’t even recall the race, if I’m being honest. I got the blocks, said a prayer, the gun went off and I’m making sure I’m not at the end of the line. I look up, 10.47. I got the school record that my teammate Luke Gerzon set.”

Now, the Baton Rouge native said he’ll take some time off and start building back up after the break. He’ll be focusing on strengthening his upper body and his quads.

Photo by Nico Klementzos

“People don’t really realize that your upper body plays a huge part in how fast you run,” he said. “All of the elite sprinters are very big in the upper body. In the 100, you have to have a lot of power output. The plan is to build back up to a point where I peak later in the season. Hopefully, championship season, get a national championship next year.”

“So proud of this kid,” said father Tony Clayton. “His best accomplishment thus far is not his athleticism, but his 3.5 GPA in pre-med credit should go to ELC (early learning center (Ms Lisa Byrd) and (Ms Dot Rumfolo from U-HigH). They deserve the academic credit. However, as per the athleticism, hate to do this to my wife’s side of his DNA, but I think he got that part from my lineage.”

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