CLAYTON — Senior Anthony Gaskins has caught more footballs than most area wide receivers the past two weeks. He has done it while playing defensive back for Clayton.
A 5-foot-11, 175-pound safety, he intercepted two passes in a 14-13 loss to Fuquay-Varina on Aug. 24 and picked off three more in Thursday night’s 41-14 win against South Johnston.
He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns and also caught a touchdown pass in a season-opening 20-15 loss to Cardinal Gibbons.
“I just want to help the team anyway I can,” Gaskins said. “I start at defensive back, but they use me some at wide receiver for blocking. Whatever I can do to help.”
The first of his interceptions against South Johnston will make the highlight reel. He read South Johnston quarterback Austin Raynor looking at back Quentin Williams running a wheel route up the left sideline out of the backfield.
Gaskins, about 10 yards away from Williams when Raynor threw the ball, broke hard toward the spot he thought the ball would be thrown.
“I just saw the quarterback turn his shoulders our way,” Gaskins said. “I tried to get inside on the receiver but I couldn’t get there. So I just jumped and tried to one-hand it.”
His guess was a bit off, but he still leaped over Williams and pulled in the ball one-handed and got a foot down inbound along the sideline. The pick set up Clayton’s first touchdown drive.
Gaskins, who also plays on the basketball team, is fast and jumps well, but the key to the interceptions has been recognizing patterns from his safety position.
On the second interception against South Johnston, he read the route and stepped in front of the pass, returning it 30 yards for a touchdown.
The third interception came late in the game when Gaskins knew South Johnston would probably be throwing deep.
“They were going to air it out and (I) just got back deep and got under the ball,” he said.
His first interception against Fuquay-Varina was similar, coming late in the first half. His second was on a slant route that he recognized. He returned that pick 75 yards for a touchdowns.
“He is an exceptional athlete, but more important for us is his attitude,” Clayton coach Gary Fowler said. “In the past year, he has grown to be an exceptional leader. He is a guy that has earned the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff.
“Watching him, and others, develop as people is one of the great joys of coaching. He has become a guy who is always trying to lift his teammates and talks about the team.”
The rivalry win against South Johnston was the Comets’ first this season after the two opening losses.
“Coach (Gary) Fowler told us to just keep working,” Gaskins said. “He said that we were going to have to fight like dogs. We had to get tougher and play harder.”
Gaskins is in the spotlight with the interceptions, but he said team play is the key to the Comets’ success. Clayton is allowing 16 points per game.
“I’m just reading the quarterback and relying on my defensive line and linebackers to get the quarterback concentrating on what they’re doing more than where I’m at,” Gaskins said. “When anybody comes up with a turnover on our team, we all get it. I’m just one of a group of 11 brothers out here.”
Clayton will play Corinth Holders this week before beginning Greater Neuse 4A play on Sept. 14 at Garner.
Tim Stevens contributed to this story.