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October 25, 2012

Ilkin gradually working way back

Corner back Clay Ilkin's journey to Robert Morris University could really be described as a roller coaster ride.

Ilkin, a self described "Pittsburgh kid" and a junior on the field, is from the South Hills and went to Upper St. Clair High School. After playing four years of high school ball, Ilkin did not initially play at the college level.

"I was sick of football in high school so after I went to Ohio University," Ilkin said.

Ilkin said he had a few offers from small Division III schools coming out of Upper St. Clair but didn't take them. He also said that Robert Morris "wasn't even really interested in me out of high school."

It was his sophomore year at Ohio when things started to change.

"My sophomore year at OU my mom got sick and I missed it a lot," he said. "I was about three hours away in Athens, Ohio and I just wanted to be able to come home every weekend and that's kind of a tough drive not having my own car."

Ilkin came back to the area he knows and loves in the fall of 2011.

"I figured if I was going to come to go a small Division I school I might as well give it another shot," he said.

Ilkin said his father, former Steelers Pro Bowler Tunch Ilkin, helped him set up a walk-on work out courtesy of his relationship with head coach Joe Walton and associate head coach John Banaszak. Ilkin worked out with secondary coach Bill Hurley and everything went well. From there, Ilkin said, he's been working his way up.

Initially, things were tough for Ilkin. He said it was hard coming back after not playing for three years and working off the rust. Despite not playing for three years and only being recruited by Division III schools coming out of high school, Illkin worked his way from the scout team to second team by the end of his first year. Then, by the time training camp started, he was penciled in as the starter alongside Antwan Eddie.

But toward the end of camp, as Robert Morris prepared for its final scrimmage, Ilkin injured his elbow. He didn't return to the field until the week prior to the homecoming game against Lafayette. Ilkin made his season debut against Bryant and played in the nickel against Central Connecticut State.

"Being injured was definitely a negative but I bounced back, tried to work my way back up. I'm just happy to be playing a little bit," Ilkin said. "Getting the opportunity to start was cool."

Ilkin said he doesn't really worry about his role on the team right now and is focused on winning. He currently gets to play as the nickel corner in certain situations, a role one of his favorite players, Charles Woodson, gets to do with the Green Bay Packers.

Ilkin said he credits the coaching staff for his improvements and helping him feel comfortable with the defense, but wouldn't be anywhere without the help of his teammates, specifically safety D.J. Myers. He said Myers has helped him learn what to do in certain situations and pick up the defense overall.

Overall, Ilkin is just happy to be back on the football field.

"I'm just trying to give my best effort and make some plays and help the team get better," he said.

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