It was 2014, and Cody Clay had just graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in criminal justice and sociology.
However, Clay wouldn’t bust bad guys, he wouldn’t investigate national crimes working in the FBI, and he wouldn’t even pursue the field of sociology – at least not yet.
Instead, Clay became a professional football player in the National Football League (NFL).
During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Clay played as an offensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.
Clay loved the game. He had a bright future in football in front of him – but life had other plans, which would eventually lead him to join the Tustin Police Department in 2019.
“I love football and I wanted to play as for as long as I could but, unfortunately, I shattered my elbow during a practice one day,” Clay said. “It was one of those injuries where the doctor and the team kind of told me, this is something that you might not make it back from.”
Regardless of that advice, Clay was determined to get back on the football field.
For the next nine months, he continued working out and attending football practices in hopes of getting drafted again.
“I was this guy who had a pretty bad injury and people don’t necessarily want a guy with a bunch of injuries because they have a tendency to keep getting hurt,” Clay said. “So after a while, I accepted that and I decided to move on.”
Although Clay knew it was time to hang up his jersey, he wasn’t ready to ditch the sports industry altogether.
He made a seamless move into the fitness industry and worked an array of jobs, from promotions to management, in that field.
“The transition was pretty easy coming from my background,” Clay said. “The fitness company was more than happy to have me because they could use me as not only a spokesperson but for a bunch of other stuff as well.”
Clay excelled and began receiving promotions.
Although happy to be moving up the ranks, Clay found himself in yet another pinch.
“It was wonderful because I was higher up in the company and things were going really well but I found myself in more of a desk position,” Clay said. “I’ve always been the type of person where I don’t like to be confined, I want to be out and about, I want to be moving, and doing something.”
Clay decided it was time to sit down with his wife and have a serious talk about his future.
“That’s when I circled back to my roots and what my degree was in, which was law enforcement,” Clay said. “My whole life my parents always had us be respectful of law enforcement and I was always the kid that wanted to jump in the cop car and check it out.”
Together, Clay and his wife began to compile a list of agencies that he could apply to.
They began striking off departments on the list based on location, pay, or safety and narrowed it down to a final two — one of which was the Tustin Police Department.
“I had my Chief’s interviews back to back at both departments,” Clay said. “The first department offered me the job but I waited to give them a response until I went to Tustin and I ended up getting the job at Tustin.”
Even though Clay had an extensive background in physical fitness, the academy still proved challenging.
“The funny thing is that with football, at my biggest, I weighed almost 325 pounds and the officer told me that the academy was not made for people like me,” Clay said. “Just the standard of training that they had us doing was nothing compared to what I was ready for, so I learned to just make it my own and make it work.”
Clay said the first three months of the academy were particularly brutal because everyone was still trying to figure out how to navigate it while being pushed to their limits both physically and mentally.
For recruits, learning how to go home and decompress before another stress-filled day at the academy also takes an adjustment period.
“Looking back, the stress they put you under is good because as police officers were going to be under stress every day,” Clay said. “We will have to be able to manage that stress due to the things we see and deal with and make sure we’re not taking that stuff home with us.”
While the academy had its ups and downs, Clay is appreciative of all he learned during his time there.
“People said that the academy is the most fun you’ll never want to have again,” Clay said. “I didn’t understand what that meant at first and I can’t really explain it, but it’s true.”
While Clay has set many different goals for himself, he mainly wants to be able to give Tustin residents the safest community possible.
“I know I still have a long way to go, but I am excited,” Clay said. “I’m just excited to be a police officer, to be able to serve a community that not only needs us but supports us as well. Tustin is a really cool place.”