Culture / Sporting Life

Inside the Education of Clayton Tune — UH’s Quarterback Turns Himself Into a Much Better Leader, But He Can’t Be the Only One

Houston Coach Dana Holgorsen is Urging the Other Captains to Step Up

BY // 07.28.22

It was just another Houston Rockets game in a sea of largely forgettable Rockets games in a season of first step rebuilding, But University of Houston quarterback Clayton Tune was there, sitting in the front row, surrounded by a small group of his teammates that included both offensive and defensive standouts. If you looked away from Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors for a moment and watched this UH group, it quickly became apparent that Tune was the guy all his other teammates looked to in terms of how to act.

After all, many of these Houston players weren’t used to being in the celebrity seats at an NBA game (one of the perks of UH-loving billionaire Tilman Fertitta owning the Rockets). But Tune played it cool and soon everyone else in the group was too.

If you’re wondering how Clayton Tune, one of the most experienced and expectation-laden quarterbacks in all of college football, spent his offseason getting better, you need to include things like that Rockets game night out with the fellas. Yes, Tune’s spent plenty of time working on reading defenses even better. Yes, you can find him and most of the Cougars’ offensive skill players getting in field work — and working on route timing — at UH’s indoor practice late into most Thursday nights.

But Tune is also becoming a better leader, a somewhat louder leader who’s pulling a Houston team that’s the slightest of favorites in the American Athletic Conference together in all sorts of ways.

“He’s been better like being a leader vocally,” lifeline UH receiver Nathaniel Dell says when I ask how Tune’s changed at AAC media day. “He’s been walking around talking to the defense. Usually like two years ago, last year, he was just talking to offensive players, receivers, stuff like that.

“Now he’s talking to like (cornerback) Jayce (Rogers), linebackers, defensive lineman, everybody. He’s getting comfortable with everybody. That’s a good thing with a quarterback.”

Especially one who can help raise the level of those around him with some friendly prodding. Or well-directed practice trash talk. Or some needed encouragement.

UH veteran safety Hasaan Hypolite has seen the change in Clayton Tune too. In many ways, this 23-year-old fifth-year senior is more and more comfortable with the fact that he needs to be one of the most powerful voices on the team.

“I’ve seen him develop on and off the field,” Hypolite says. “He’s more vocal now. He’s making his presence really known as far as like him being a leader with the way he talks to the guys around him. And trying to make everyone better.”

This includes those late evening offseason workout sessions organized by Tune. It’s just Tune and the receivers and running backs, with no coaches around, working on routes. And their craft. Trying to make sure they get the details right.

“I drive past the school on like Thursdays at 7’o’clock at night,” Hypolite shares. “I see him, Tank (Dell), other receivers’ cars outside the indoor. They’re getting in extra work and stuff. I feel like as far as being a pro, he’s grown better.”

University of Houston coach Dana Holgorsen can see that too. But Holgorsen seems determined to make sure that Tune doesn’t try to take on the whole burden himself. Being a quarterback at the high Division I level is hard enough without piling extra things onto it.

Like feeling that you’re completely responsible for making sure UH lives up to its preseason billing. Which includes being picked to win the league by one vote over Cincinnati in the preseason poll. (Luke Fickell’s Bearcats actually received more first place votes than UH — 10 to 7 — with third place UCF also matching the Cougars’ seven first place votes). The expectations have some Houston fans even imagining a berth in the still four team college football playoffs.

Holgorsen does not want all the weight on his quarterback.

The Clayton Tune Plan

Not making Clayton Tune one of the players available at the AAC’s rather 2020-worthy virtual media day seems like a deliberate choice. So does UH naming seven other captains besides Tune, who is officially one for the third straight season.

To Holgorsen, it’s more about how Houston’s other leaders step up. Or should be.

“I met with the captains last week and we discussed that,” Holgorsen says when I ask about Tune’s leadership. “We educate our guys throughout the course of the year on how to be a leader and how to be captains. And probably the most encouraging thing. . .

“The quarterbacks always going to have that role and has to accept that role. But the more captain people we have around him, the less Clayton’s going to have to do. And the less Clayton has to do, the more he gets to focus on being a quarterback.”

In many ways, that purpose-driven leadership meeting centered around Holgorsen urging the other captains to take on plenty of the leadership mantle. And responsibilities. Holgorsen does not want his quarterback pulled in more different directions than the characters who encountered the chimp in Nope are.

“I’ve seen him develop on and off the field. He’s more vocal now. He’s making his presence really known as far as like him being a leader with the way he talks to the guys around him. And trying to make everyone better.” — UH’s Hasaan Hypolite on QB Clayton Tune

The University of Houston Cougars met Southern Methodist Univesity, Saturday October 30, 2021 at TDECU Stadium
UH coach Dana Holgorsen has always been an inventive play caller. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Holgorsen wants Tune to be able to focus.

“It’s all business,” Holgorsen says of his QB. “Which is what the quarterback position is supposed to be. He’s supposed to execute. And the only way he can execute is if you have a clear mind and things around you are acting the way that they need to be acting.

“So if you have other captain quality guys like Christian Trahan, Patrick Paul, older guys like Ta’Zhawn Henry and Kesean Carter, Jack Freeman, these guys need to handle everything and make sure everybody’s functioning in the right way.

“So that way, Clayton can focus on execution and doing things he needs to do as a quarterback.”

Clayton Tune is as much better leader. In the huddle. During a night out with his teammates. In the practice facility — and the film room. But Dana Holgorsen knows that this particular Houston team — one that carries such expectations after a 12-2 season that included a bowl game win over an SEC team — cannot count on Tune to be the only leader.

The quarterback’s burden is already vast enough. Clayton Tune’s grown immensely as a leader, but that doesn’t mean he no longer needs help.

For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — stories you cannot read anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

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