Professional sports are overrun with statistical data. Players are graded, ranked and compiled in lists based on increasingly intricate variables. Fantasy football is a billion dollar industry based upon nothing but stats, stats, stats.
Considering this trend, it's refreshing to come across a player who isn't bogged down with numbers and recognizes the importance of the intangibles.
One such player is Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton.
When asked what he thought about being the Ravens' franchise leader in 100-yard games for a receiver, Clayton was momentarily taken aback.
"Really?" he said.
He wasn't being modest or feigning ignorance on the subject. He had no idea.
"That's crazy," he continued. "Especially playing with a great one like [Derrick] Mason. For me, it's just about whatever it takes to help this team win. It's great if they feel like going to me and I get all those yards, but if they don't go to me and I'm blocking all game, that's great, too. It doesn't matter to me."
Much of Clayton's success on the field is attributed to much of what happened off it. Following this string of spatial rhetoric, another reason Clayton has enjoyed such success in life is because of what happens between his ears and how he approaches life's challenges.
"You have to have a good attitude," said Clayton. "We are a team, but we are each individuals wanting to be cohesive and on the same page. And players feed off of you. So if there's someone with a bad attitude going into a game, they can be a cancer to the group."
Clayton has certainly come a long way from his humble upbringing and this is one reason he relishes every opportunity to play for the Baltimore Ravens.
The reality of Clayton's childhood consisted of many tribulations. There was the moving from house to house. There was the homeless shelter. There was the scrambling to find clothes. There was little food.
It would be so easy for Clayton to play the sympathy card – the rags to riches story of a man who literally went from rages to riches. But this is not that story.
"As a child, I thought everything was all right," said Clayton. "It didn't seem like we were in that type of situation. And that is a testament to my mom and my grandmother's attitude at the time and not letting themselves feed into the negativity of the situation. So looking at them and what we went through and how we handled it was huge into how I now approach anything. Whether it's disappointment or frustration, I know I can still choose to be in the right frame of mind to overcome whatever."
If there were doubters along the way, Clayton didn't hear them. Or it could be they simply weren't around. Clayton maintains that playing in the NFL was never a life-long dream he sought to fulfill. He didn't play varsity football until the end of his junior year in high school. At the time, he wanted to become an architect. But the drive and focus was always the same, no matter what he was pursuing.
Now that he is playing professionally, Clayton prepares for each game as if it could be his last. He wants the ball thrown to him with the game on the line – just like it was against New England. But unfortunately, that ball was dropped. Clayton wanted to make that reception, but it didn't work out that way.
He took full responsibility for the drop; and he started preparing for the next game against Cincinnati.
In that game, quarterback Joe Flacco targeted him more than any other receiver on the team. Simply put, Flacco continued to throw to Clayton because he trusts him as a receiver.
Clayton continues to make plays on the field. He also continues his work in the community, impacting thousands of lives.
"It's very important," he said of his charity work. "My family definitely experienced situations where we used other people's charity, hand-outs, and love. This helped my mom put me in a position to be successful in my life. So it's really important for me to give back."
While many are reaping the rewards of Clayton's efforts, the Raven wide receiver remains humbled.
"I just feel blessed to be where I'm at right now," said Clayton. "Such a small percentage of people get to do what I do."
So it seems Clayton does actually pay attention to some stats.