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BOGACZYK: For (St.) Pete's Sake, Clark Finds Football Again

Jack Bogaczyk (left), Michael Clark (right)
Dec. 19, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK
HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. --
Among the 24 players from Florida on the Marshall football roster for the St. Petersburg Bowl, there are seven who call home within an hour's drive to Tropicana Field.

That list includes quarterback Chase Litton and kickoff man Amoreto Curraj (Tampa), running back Remi Watson and offensive tackle Fred Binot (Lakeland) and defensive end Blake Keller (Bradenton).

Then, there is another one who could probably walk to the game, if he wanted. He is really from the neighborhood.

It's sophomore wide receiver Michael Clark. He's the only Herd player from St. Petersburg, and his 18th Street South home is only 4.9 miles to "The Trop."

"Less than a 15-minute drive," Clark said. "I've been there a bunch of times for (Tampa Bay Rays) baseball and the bowl games.

He won't play in the bowl, however. Clark's story is a different one from his teammates, and not just because he's a 6-foot-7 receiver.

A year ago tonight, he was a 19-year-old freshman backup riding a bus with the St. Francis (Pa.) basketball team from Pittsburgh back to campus in Loretto, Pa., following a 67-52 Red Flash victory at Duquesne.

Until he joined Coach Doc Holliday's program in mid-August -- during the second week of preseason camp -- he hadn't played football since the 2010 season, when he was a freshman at Tampa Catholic High School.

While sitting out as a Division I transfer this season, Clark obviously has assimilated himself into the Herd. At last weekend's team banquet, he was presented the 2015 Defensive Scout Team Award for the "looks" he gives the Marshall starting defense in practice.

 

 

Not bad for a guy who is on his fifth school since the start of his high school 10th grade year.

Clark's connection to Marshall prior to his arrival was Litton, the true freshman who back in camp was still a third-stringer. The two, as youngsters, had played AAU basketball as teammates in Tampa. And while Litton was a two-sport star in high school, Clark gave up football not long before his family moved from Tampa to St. Pete, two weeks into his sophomore year.

"I knew Chase most of the time we were in Tampa as kids," Clark said. "We played AAU basketball against each other, and then eventually on the same team, and then more years went by and we played for different teams.

"In my freshman year I stopped playing football, and he went to Wharton (High). I attended Catholic. I decided to take basketball seriously in my sophomore year and then ended up going to St. Francis. I didn't play football again, didn't think I would."

Clark moved from Tampa Catholic to Boca Ciega High in St. Petersburg, then transferred for his senior year to Lakewood High. As a St. Francis freshman last season, Clark played 43 minutes in 12 games, scoring six points with six rebounds. Then, he decided to return to football.

"Really, it was just finding my identity my freshman year in college," the soft-spoken Clark said. "I figured out that's what I really wanted to do. I started asking questions and then taking actions instead of asking questions.

"I told my coach (SFU's Rob Krimmel) what I wanted to do; I wanted to play football. He was on my side, a really good guy, didn't try to talk me out of it. He helped me do what I needed to do, finish my grades. I was released, went home, started workouts."

Litton recommended Clark to Holliday. "He's a great kid," the Herd coach said. As a receiver, Clark remains a work in progress, and he's been getting extra solo work after Marshall's bowl practices in the indoor facility.

"We don't know yet," Herd receivers coach Mike Furrey said when asked about Clark. "He's big (200 pounds), tall, long, talented, catches the ball really well -- and naturally. But it's been a long time since he really played in a game, and with real live bullets.

"Right now, he's just reading plays off a card. So, we'll find out more in the spring."

Clark, born in Salem, Mass., moved to the Tampa Bay area with his family when he was 8. He said that during his high school years, he consistently received comments from coaches and friends -- "peer pressure stuff" -- about not playing football. But he enjoyed basketball.

Now 20 and in a pre-computer science track at MU, Clark said he began to look at what could be rather than what was.

"I looked at it that it just came down to a business decision for me," Clark said. "What was better off for me in the long term? My goal for basketball was probably to play two or three years and then go overseas, and that was my dream.

"But with that, I felt I was selling myself short. I was asking myself questions and then football came up. A lot of people around me supported me and I was pretty decent at this in high school when I quit playing, so I'm catching back up."

Clark said he had little choice in that regard, and that contributed to getting the Scout Team honor.

"The defense helped me out a lot because those guys are the starting cornerbacks and you're going against them every single day," he said. "You can't slack off. Because if I do, they'll push you to the ground and make a play on me, so each and every day I had to come in and challenge them and they'd challenge me. And it's a mutual respect because we're all out there trying to make one another into better players."

Clark said he hasn't second-guessed his decision to leave basketball behind.

"Football, the first day I got here, the music playing, just the energy on the field -- I missed everything about it," he said. "In the drills, I felt really comfortable, but once I got onto the field, it was kind of a shock.

"The first day I was here, they made me practice, and I think I dropped the first ball thrown to me. But day-by-day, I got more comfortable and they saw what I can do."

And in the future, the Herd figures that it can get more from Clark than good directions to "The Trop."

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