Three years ago, Christopher Clark balanced a 9-to-5 job at Starbucks with part-time night classes as a freshman at East Los Angeles College. Organized football appeared to be in his past after no schools offered the undersized wide receiver a scholarship out of high school.
But encouragement from a friend motivated Clark to walk on to the football team, and eventually paved the way for an unexpected phone call.
At 6 a.m. one April day in 2012, Clark’s phone rang and woke him up. It was then-Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone and wide receivers coach Rob Moore. They were offering him a scholarship. His dream to play Division I football was closer than ever.
“The fact that Syracuse gave me an opportunity,” Clark said, “I told myself that I was going to give it my all when I stepped on the field.”
Clark never anticipated he’d get that opportunity. After earning a scholarship from SU and contributing his junior year, though, he’s emerged as one of Syracuse’s most reliable receivers this season.
Zip in his step and a strong pair of hands have been on full display. Clark already has 11 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in his second year with the Orange.
Eleven catches matches his total from all of last year.
“Chris is a little guy,” Moore said. “Speed, quickness, all those little things.”
Moore and Marrone were in pursuit of a wide receiver when they first spotted Clark.
They looked at film of 40 or 50 wide receivers and Clark stood out immediately, Moore said. He didn’t have the size – he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds – or the Division I experience. But he did have blazing speed and strong hands.
With the departure of Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales, Moore knew Syracuse would need receivers to step up. One of those playmakers was supposed to be Adrian Flemming, the big, physical wideout who Moore said “tries to bang you around.”
But Flemming broke a bone in his left leg, ending his season, which thrust Clark into a significant role. Clark was crushed to see one of his best friends get sidelined, but knew the moment he’d trained for the past three years had finally surfaced.
On Saturday against Wagner, Clark scored two touchdowns and toyed with the overmatched Seahawks defense. Both Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt have looked comfortable throwing to Clark, as he’s shown an innate ability to run dizzying routes and get open.
But Clark never would have made it to Syracuse if he hadn’t changed his mind about playing junior college football.
A friend who played on the ELAC football team convinced him to give the sport one more shot. After all, Clark had dominated at quarterback and wide receiver in high school. The team was in need of a deep threat. It was a perfect fit.
So he gave the sport that stole his heart in high school another chance.
Clark’s first year at ELAC was “nothing special,” but his next year was quite special, indeed. Thirty-three receptions. Six hundred thirty-three yards. Eleven touchdowns. All in 10 games.
“It was a big year,” Clark said.
That’s when Moore and the Syracuse staff noticed just how good Clark was. Despite his whopping numbers, SU was one of only a few schools to show interest.
And Clark thought Syracuse was simply looking.
He never expected the phone call that would send him from one side of the country to the other.
Once it came, congratulatory phone calls and texts from friends and family appeared in bunches. The kid who worked at Starbucks and didn’t play for a team just two years earlier was going to suit up for Syracuse.
“It was a big shock,” Clark said with a grin. “I told my mom. She started crying.”
Fast forward two years. It’s summer. SU head coach Scott Shafer is at Manley Field House on a Saturday morning. Clark is out on the field by himself, drenched in sweat. He’s working with a tennis ball machine, strengthening his hands and sharpening his vision.
Shafer’s son, Wolfgang, worked out with the team in the summer, and Shafer said his son told him Clark puts in more work than anyone else on the team.
“It’s great to see a young man kind of have a taste of the fruits of his labor,” Shafer said.
Clark never gave up on his dream to play Division-I football, despite the hiatus. He said he didn’t even have to go to class at ELAC. He didn’t have to stick with football, either. But he did both.
“I just told myself, ‘Don’t stop,’” Clark said. “‘Keep working, keep working. Something’s going to come.’
“And it did.”
Published on September 17, 2013 at 1:15 am
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