And when Weishuhn hits a ballcarrier, he stays hit. He's no borderline NFL player. He was a third-round pick of the Patriots last year, and even though his rookie season was shortened by the strike, he made a name for himself with his quickness and aggressiveness and his knack for getting to the ball. Larry Peccatiello, the Washington Redskins' linebacker coach, says, "Clayton Weishuhn. What a player! What a kid! When they first started telling me about him, I thought he was a little light for an inside linebacker. Then I saw him in the Olympic Gold Bowl [a postseason all-star game for college seniors] where he was the defensive MVP. On one play he got knocked down by a cut block on a blitz and still got up to tackle the runner behind the line of scrimmage. I think he's the most exciting young linebacker I've ever seen. I think we're talking about another Lee Roy Jordan."
Speaking of Weishuhn's aggressiveness, Martin, his Angelo State coach, says, "We get a lot of players in here that don't know 'come here' from 'sic 'em.' Believe me, when Clayton got here he sure knew what 'sic 'em' meant."
Among the Pats, Weishuhn was second only to the other inside linebacker, Steve Nelson, in total tackles; he led the New England team in unassisted stops with 48. Against the Steelers he had 25 tackles, 10 of them unassisted and in all but two games he had more than 12 tackles. Says John Hannah, New England's recently retired All-Pro guard, "Clayton's going to be a great one. He's hell to shut out of a play."
Given all that, it seems unbelievable that Weishuhn could have been serious about passing up pro football in favor of cotton farming. But his agent, Joe Courrege, insists Weishuhn wasn't kidding. "He's a young man who knows what he wants," says Courrege. "When I sat down to negotiate with New England I told them that Clayton had certain requirements, and if he didn't get them, he was going to stay down on the farm." He pauses, as if not quite sure he believes what he's about to say. "This was before the USFL came along, so in talking contract you normally would hold the Canadian Football League over the NFL team's head. But I was threatening the Patriots with cotton farming as our alternative if they didn't meet our terms. I don't think that's ever happened before."
Weishuhn was the 60th player picked in the 1981 draft. Courrege says a lot of teams made a mistake in not drafting him sooner. "Oh, there were some clubs who were worried about his weight," he admits, "but I think most of them were afraid to waste a high choice because they feared Clayton wouldn't report. But two months before the draft he was saying in a loud, clear voice he'd play for whoever drafted him, provided they offered a reasonable deal. They just weren't listening."
Even the all-knowing Dallas Cowboy organization admits to having made a mistake. The Cowboys had a chance to draft Weishuhn seven picks before he was taken by New England, but they passed him up in favor of another linebacker, Yale's Jeff Rohrer, who spent most of last season on the sidelines. Gil Brandt, the director of personnel development for the Cowboys, says, "Yeah, we were wrong about Clayton. We can measure height and weight and speed, but we don't have a computer that measures heart and character, and that kid's got a bunch. We should have drafted him."
Of course, it's no secret why Weishuhn is playing pro football. "We thought about it a long time," says Diane, "and we decided that the time we spent away from Wall would be worth it if we could get what we want."
What they want is farmland. Acquiring it isn't easy. Good irrigated land in West Texas goes for about $1,400 an acre. Then there's the expense of equipment. Clayton, his father and Darryl own six tractors among them, and each costs $40,000 or more. The family jointly owns a combine, which goes for $80,000.
So cotton farming is a very expensive business to get into. You either have to inherit the land, which Weishuhn isn't likely to do any time soon, or be able to make a lot of money in a hurry. For Weishuhn, quick bucks constitute the big appeal of pro football. Even third-round draft choices get a pretty good piece of change as a signing bonus; Weishuhn received a reported $100,000 as part of a four-year, $500,000 package. There's no evidence of lavish spending around the Weishuhn house. No Mercedes sits out front, only a 1981 Buick Riviera and a pickup. There's no new furniture, no additions to the house. And in Foxboro the Weishuhns live in a place that's rented right down to the furniture. Clearly, every penny above living expenses is being saved to buy land. "Every farmer wants his own land," he says.
In 1926, Weishuhn's paternal grandfather bought land in the Concho basin and the Weishuhns have lived there ever since. So has Diane's family. Clayton has two other brothers and a sister. Doyle, 17, the youngest brother, is still in high school, but the other two, Darryl, 27, and Carl, 22, farm cotton. (Lisa, 26, works for a steel company in San Angelo.) Everyone in Wall says Darryl would have been a better football player than Clayton, but Darryl quit at Angelo State after his freshman year to return full time to the farm. Clayton almost did the same, but he was talked out of it by then Angelo State Head Coach Jim Hess.