After a lengthy pro football career, former Missouri State standout Clay Harbor lives in Chicago and is a motivational speaker, personal trainer and budding football media member. (Photo: Clay Harbor)

Even though it’s been 13 years since he caught a pass at Missouri State and five seasons since last appearing in a National Football League game, Clay Harbor remains attached to football.

The one-time Missouri State all-America tight end lives in Chicago and works as a motivational speaker, personal trainer and of late as a budding pro football analyst.

“Last week I went on NBC Chicago television twice,” Harbor said. “I’m starting a radio show and podcast once the season begins. That’ll be my first paid media gig. That’s exciting. I want to keep expanding on it because I love the game.”

From the NFL to reality TV

Harbor, a fourth-round draft choice in 2010 by the Philadelphia Eagles, played parts of eight seasons in the NFL for four teams. He had a rather modest career, by the numbers, with 114 receptions for 1,170 yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 98 games.

With a laugh, Harbor admits he probably has as many if not more fans for his time as a contestant on the popular network television show “The Bachelorette” late in his playing career.

“I didn’t know how many people really watched the show,” Harbor said. “It was a random thing that I got asked to do. I’m still playing football at this point. It was in the offseason. They let me work out. I’m like what’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Harbor wound up injuring his wrist in a game of football among contestants, ending his time on the show — even as he received a rose in his final episode from bachelorette Becca. 

Comparing football and reality television, Harbor laughed and said, “I love football a lot more than I love ‘The Bachelorette.’”

Finding his way at Missouri State

After being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Clay Harbor went on to play in 98 career NFL games for the Eagles, Jaguars, Lions and Patriots. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

Harbor looks forward to returning to Springfield next week and telling his story to the Missouri State football team. It’s one that parallels the story coach Bobby Petrino’s Bears are attempting to write in 2022, one of going from humble beginnings to accomplishing great things against the odds.

Barely recruited when he came to Missouri State on a half-scholarship in 2005, Harbor proved himself and now is excited about his old school’s mission to become one of the best teams in the FCS.

“I couldn’t be happier for Springfield and the school,” Harbor said of a Missouri State program that went from 1-10 in 2019 to back-to-back playoff appearances under Petrino. “They’ve wanted it for so long, to have a good team. 

“I wish I could have been a part of it, led us to the playoffs, for the city and for the school. But I couldn’t be happier to see what is going on down there now.”

Harbor said he’s still haunted by a pair of close Missouri Valley Football Conference losses his senior season, when the Bears finished 6-5. 

“If you win seven or eight games from the Missouri Valley, you’re probably going to the playoffs. If we had just had one more win … I still think about that,” Harbor said. “People ask me, ‘Dude, why do you still think about it?’ That stuff never leaves you. 

“I always wanted to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. But I’m really happy to see Missouri State doing well now.”

One of Harbor’s messages to the current Bears will be about dreaming big. It’s something he had to do, starting with his playing days at tiny Dwight High School in central Illinois.

Harbor said the school was so small, it had to co-op with two neighboring schools to have enough for a team. He recalled being the only freshman not to be promoted to the junior varsity.

Then despite putting up huge receiving numbers by the time he was a senior, college recruiters didn’t beat a path to Dwight. 

That’s when older brother Corey, already at Missouri State, gave then-Bears coach Randy Ball a video of Clay. Assistant coaches Deion Melvin and Andy Follette wound up recruiting him to the partial scholarship.

After spending his first year as a redshirt, Harbor didn’t play much as a freshman receiver. Harbor’s Missouri State career nearly ended the next offseason, when Terry Allen replaced Ball and moved Harbor to tight end.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but I thought about transferring,” Harbor said. “I didn’t want to play tight end at the beginning. My brother made me go to practice. Corey convinced me to stay the course and go to practice.”

Then, a revelation occurred.

“I found out it was a lot easier getting open against a linebacker than it was against a cornerback,” Harbor said. “It was almost a cheat-code. I started making plays and the coaches saw that I’m a weapon inside and started throwing me the ball.”

Breakout success

Clay Harbor was an FCS All-American three times at Missouri State from 2005-09, finishing with 150 career receptions. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

Harbor wound up with big junior and senior seasons. He earned invitations to a pair of all-star games after his final year and got to play alongside and against players from major schools, and then the NFL Combine.

“What I tell everybody is that these guys are the same age. They’re men, just like us, we’re the same size,” Harbor said. “What makes them any better? Just because they have Florida Gators on the jersey or an Alabama Crimson Tide on their helmet? No, you can go out and play with anybody.

“If you are a good player, if you use your technique and you’re consistent, you can play on any level. You don’t have to be a guy who was highly recruited. People talk about being a 2-star recruit on Rivals, or whatever. I didn’t even make the website. I wasn’t even on Rivals. I didn’t have a star.”

That sort of mindset was enough for Harbor to prove himself in college, have a lengthy NFL career and even become a pop-culture celebrity on “The Bachelorette.” Now, he’s working equally hard to prove himself in the media world.

Harbor has become a popular Twitter follow for NFL aficionados — find him @ClayHarbs_82. Look for his new podcast, “The Clay & Kaye Show,” coming soon to your favorite podcast platform.

“Just being around it is a passion of mine,” Harbor said. “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun for me.”

Clay Harbor at MSU

A 2020 Missouri State Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Clay Harbor won Associated Press All-America FCS honors three times at Missouri State and was a Walter Camp Football Foundation FCS All-American at the tight end position. Harbor played in the East-West Shrine game in 2009. He is one of just six MSU players ever to be named all-Missouri Valley Football Conference three times, finishing with 10 career touchdowns and caught at least one pass in 33 consecutive games.

Harbor was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of 2010 National Football League draft and played for a total of 98 career NFL games for the Eagles, Jaguars, Lions and Patriots.

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton