It had been more than two years since Clayton Bardall caught a touchdown pass.
Bardall, a 2018 graduate of North Forsyth, spent some of those two years on the field, but most of that time was spent away from the field as he recovered from a broken ankle.
But on Saturday, Bardall was healthy. And luckily for Western Carolina, Bardall was on the field, where he caught a 6-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to lead the Catamounts past North Greenville, 20-17.
"Me and the other tight end were lined up backside," Bardall said. "Before the play even started, he saw the play call and went, 'Hey man, this is you. You got it.' So, I just kind of released and they just lost the back side of the zone, and I came up in the back of the end zone. He threw a high ball and I just went up and got it."
Bardall missed much of his senior season at North Forsyth after he broke his ankle the second week of the season against Johns Creek. He played in two games last year as a true freshman but broke the same ankle again, which kept him out of the rest of the season.
Bardall's touchdown catch gave Western Carolina the lead with 5 minutes left in the game and helped the Catamounts to their first win since Sept. 22, 2018, snapping 10-game losing streak.
"It was surreal," Bardall said. "I'm just honored to be
able to play the game. I've been at it for so long. Last year I broke my ankle
again, and I broke my ankle my senior year. So, any opportunity I get, I'm
just thankful to be able to do it."
Bardall was able to make the most of his opportunity partly because he spent most of his true freshman season on the sidelines, where tight ends coach Pat Mills made sure he grew mentally while he waited for his ankle to heal.
So, on Sundays, when players on Western Carolina's travel squad watched film while the non-travel squad players lifted weights, Mills had other plans for Bardall.
"Instead of doing that, he'd make me go in there,
take all the notes, watch, and even though I wasn't playing at all, I'd still
have to pay attention and get ready for the game like I was playing," Bardall said. "So, it was
mentally straining, but it gave me time to put the weight on that I needed to
put on and just learn the game better."
Bardall is one of five tight ends on Western Carolina's roster — six if you count TE/RB Luke Hoggard — and is behind third-team FCS All-American Owen Cosenke and Austin Phillips on the depth chart. Still, Bardall shook off the inexperience and rewarded the school that took a chance on him in high school.
Several of the schools that were recruiting Bardall out of high school backed off after he broke his ankle, but Western Carolina offered him a scholarship in early 2018.
Bardall responded by committing on Feb. 3, 2018, four days before signing day.
"It was amazing," Bardall said. "I remember I came here the summer between my freshman and sophomore year when my brother was getting recruited. It was amazing, and I said, 'Wow, it'd be really cool to go to school here.'"
Bardall's brother, Jackson Bardall, is a redshirt junior at Eastern Kentucky.
"I'm glad I ended up at Western. I love it here," Bardall said. "There's nothing else I'd rather want."