Clarence Clark returns to All-American form


Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

Through six games, sophomore wide receiver Clarence Clark has emerged as the top wideout for the No. 6 Baker Wildcat football team. After missing the 2014 season due to injury Clark has come back, almost better than ever.

“It’s the little things with him,” junior quarterback Nick Marra said. “He makes a quarterback really comfortable because he’s going to be in the right place, he’s going to run the right route, he’s going to do the right thing and he’s going to do it full speed every single time.”

Clark has been with the Baker football team the longest of anyone else in the current corps of wide receivers. Clark came to Baker for the 2013 season and the coaches were unsure if they wanted to use him as a wide receiver or a kicker. Clark’s high school career at Brophy Prep High School in Phoenix, Arizona, was spent mostly on the soccer field.

“He’s the fastest kid on the field at all times, game speed for sure he’s the fastest,” sophomore receiver Cornell Brown said. “When you have that on your side and you work hard, there’s not much that can really stop you.”

In his first game of his college career, Clark missed an extra point that nearly cost Baker the game in a 25-24 victory against Ottawa. But from week two through the end of the 2013 season, the spotlight was on Clark.

On the road at Saint Mary, Clark made a 45-yard field goal right before the half that kept Baker in the game. In the fourth quarter, he caught an 11-yard touchdown pass to add on to his five catches and 60 yards on the afternoon. The freshman phenom started to generate a buzz around the rest of the conference.

But Clark continued to be a part of big plays throughout the rest of the season. He caught two touchdowns in a 63-17 win over Avila. Against MNU he kicked a 37-yard field goal, caught a 21-yard touchdown pass and ran in a fake field goal from 25-yards out to help Baker beat its rivals from Olathe for the first time since 1999.

He recorded the longest play from scrimmage in school history at Culver-Stockton on a 98-yard touchdown reception and then scored on a 79-yard reception the following week against Central Methodist.

Clark then cemented his season into Baker history on the road at No. 6 Missouri Valley. Late in the fourth quarter with the Wildcats trailing by three points, head coach Mike Grossner elected to send his freshman kicker on for a 59-yard field goal, just 3 yards shy of Derek Doerfler’s school-record 62-yarder against William Jewell six years earlier. The wind died down and Clark blasted the field goal from a yard shy of midfield and tied the game, forcing overtime.

In overtime Grossner called on Clark again to try and win it, this time from 52 yards. Clark sent the ball right through the middle of the uprights, and Baker knocked off the future conference co-champions for Missouri Valley’s only conference loss.

Clark had two touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season before starting the playoffs at home against Sterling College. He was responsible for every point in Baker’s 10-7 win. He caught an 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter but also missed three field goals of 39, 44 and 31 yards. As time expired Clark nailed the game winning, walk-off field goal that propelled Baker into the second round of the NAIA playoffs with its first playoff win in 20 years.

After catching nine passes for 147 yards in Baker’s final game of the 2013 season, a loss to No. 5 Morningside in the playoffs, the stage was set for Clark to return as just a sophomore in 2014 and be the best player in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

Clark was named a third-team All-American after catching 40 passes for a team-high 840 yards with 10 touchdowns. Clark also made 17 of his 26 fields goals, leading the NAIA in made field goals, finishing second in scoring with 160 points.

Clark started the first game of the 2014 with Baker’s first score of the season at Ottawa, a 54-yard touchdown out of the backfield in the Wildcat formation. But disaster struck for Clark just a few plays later as he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Baker not only lost its best receiver but lost its best kicker as well.

Clark went through with his surgery during the 2014 season and began his rehabilitation to be ready for the Aug. 29 kickoff in Des Moines, Iowa, against Grand View. Clark looked like his normal self, making two field goals, one from 55-yards, and making three catches for 39 yards. From there everything has been the Clarence Clark of 2013 and then some extras.

“I think running wise he’s as fast as he’s ever been and he’s catching the ball much better and he’s getting up the field quickly,” Grossner said. “There’s nobody quicker out there up the field.”

Through six games Clark has 30 catches, 508 yards and six touchdowns, leading the team in each of those categories. He is third in the conference in receptions and yards and is tied for first in touchdowns. Clark leads the nation in scoring with 82 total points and has put himself in the running for Heart Player of the Year.

“I don’t have to worry about him taking a play off or running a half speed route,” Marra said. “This year we’ve definitely had time to click and we’re getting some really good chemistry.”

Clark has struggled times with kicking this year. He has missed field five of his 11 field goals attempted this season, including two misses against Graceland.

“His kicking has suffered just a little because he hasn’t worked on it all summer because he was rehabbing,” Grossner said. “He might be leading the nation in scoring now, but imagine once he gets his kicking game back.”

As a program Baker has NFL connections. Baker has Mike McCarthy, Super Bowl champion head coach of the Green Bay Packers, and Tanner Purdum, the long snapper for New York Jets. In addition, Dillon Baxter made progress in the Seattle Seahawks camp in 2014 under his former coach at USC , Pete Carroll.

Clark may have a chance to play professional football as well.

“I think that down the road he’s going to have a tough decision to make,” Grossner said. “What does he want to do in the future? Does he want to be an NFL type wide receiver, because he’s got the ability, or does he want to be an NFL kicker?”

Clark also has a connection to the NFL. Clark’s cousin Tyler Lockett is a wide receiver and kick/punt returner for the Seattle Seahawks. Lockett was taken in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Kansas State University, where he holds the career record for receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns and was an All-American kick returner.

Clark will be able to use the help of his cousin when his time comes to move on from Baker. Fortunately for him, he can focus on football for right now.

“Right now we don’t have to make those decisions, but he’s going to have that in the future,” Grossner said.

As Clark begins the back half of the 2015 season, he knows that the success of his teammates and the team is more important than his personal gains.

“I think it’s that we all accepted our roles … ” Clark said. “We have five very very good wideouts that can play all of the positions.”

Clark believes that everyone on this team doesn’t care much for individual statistics and who catches more passes than whom.

I think it’s good that we’re all going out there and executing the way we’re executing,” Clark said. “We’re not the team that’s like, ‘why’s he getting more catches than this guy?’ We’re all just accepting it.”