By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Craig Clemons would have been a star in any city, in any state, on any football team.
As fate would have it, however, Clemons was a star in Piqua … which turned out to be the perfect situation. In fact, the way Clemons sees it, growing up in Piqua and playing for the Indians was nothing short of divine intervention.
“Piqua was the perfect place for me to grow up,” said Clemons, a 1968 Piqua High School graduate who went on to be a star football player at the University of Iowa and play for six years in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears. “God put me in the perfect situation to grow up. It was safe; it was respectful. The Lord put me in Piqua, Ohio for a reason. I had great teachers, great coaches and met great people in high school.
“You have to remember, in those days there was a lot of unrest in this country. You had the Vietnam War, you had draft dodging, you had civil unrest. As a black man growing up, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with a lot of that in Piqua. It was the perfect situation for me.”
It was a situation Clemons took full advantage of in high school. A running back and hard-hitting defensive back blessed with size and speed, Clemons was a two-time team captain and an All-Ohio selection his senior year. He helped lead the Indians to a Miami Valley League title, was a two-time All-MVL selection and was picked to play in the Ohio All-Sate Football all-star game following his senior season. He also was a star on the basketball court — Clemons describes basketball as his “true love” — and was a charter member of the Piqua High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
At the Piqua High School football team’s Aug. 29 season opener against Toledo St. John’s, Clemons will be honored at halftime along with the Indians’ four other former NFL players, Craig Clemons, Matt Finkes, Quinn Pitcock and Brandon Saine.
“I go back to Piqua often,” Clemons said. “I still have brothers, sisters and cousins who live in Piqua. I love going back and seeing them. I go back two or three times a year. I go back every Labor Day weekend — this event just happens to coincide with that.”
Clemons cites former Piqua head coach Chuck Asher and freshman football coach Dick Pearson as two men who heavily influenced his young football career.
“I learned everything I needed to know about the game of football while I was at Piqua,” Clemons said. “I understood the gameplan and was receptive to change. I learned a lot from Coach Asher and Coach Pearson. All in all, Piqua was the perfect situation for me as an athlete, too.”
Following his playing days at Piqua, Clemons went on to to play at the University of Iowa, where he excelled as a defensive back. As a senior in 1971, Clemons was a first team All-American, first team All-Big Ten, team captain and was voted the team’s most valuable player. While playing for the Hawkeyes, he also was second team All-Big Ten as a sophomore and junior. Clemons was named to Iowa’s All-Time Team.
He played in a pair of all-star games following graduation and was named MVP of both the Blue-Gray Classic and the Senior Bowl All-Star game. He also played in the Chicago Tribune All Star content, which featured a team of college all-stars taking on the NFL champions.
Clemons was taken by the Bears with the 12th overall pick in the 1972 NFL Draft — one pick ahead of NFL Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. He would play six years with the Bears.
Clemons and his wife Theresa have three children — Stephanie, Jonathan and Jennifer — and six grandchildren.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong