Getting in Shape

  • April 02, 2009 02:53 PM
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By Grant Dovey for MSNsportsNET.com
April 3, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke came to West Virginia last fall with a full scholarship, full opportunity, and unfortunately, a full belly.

  Redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke has been getting a lot of work with the ones in short yardage situations.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

Clarke has always been a big kid, but West Virginia coaches were unhappy when he came to camp super sized, tipping the scales at about 260 pounds. That was about 20-25 pounds more than what they expected.

This spring has been much different for Clarke as he is now between 225 and 230, and he is now taking reps with the first team offense.

“I had to change all of my eating habits, cut out the breads mostly and eat smaller portions of meats and veggies,” Clarke said. “I had to do extra cardio all of the time, running, riding the bike, the treadmill and elliptical, all of the important stuff.”

The previous season when Clarke was tearing up the competition at DeMatha Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., the Mountaineers had a soon-departing senior in Owen Schmitt tearing up his college opponents.

With the void left by the graduate of Schmitt, it was inevitable that Clarke would have an opportunity to be the man to fill that void. However Clarke, who led his DeMatha team to a 33-4 record in his final three seasons, found himself riding the exercise bike.

Will Johnson, Tyler Urban and walk-on Ricky Kovatch came in and took the reps. After the second game of the season it was obvious that West Virginia could have used Clarke’s big, compact body in the short yardage situations.

In practices this spring, Clarke has been impressive moving the pile and getting the tough yards that big backs are sometimes required to get on their own. One of his best traits is his ability to always seem to go forward when contact is made.

Although the final short yardage statistics didn't turn out all bad last year, in key situations it hurt the team. It is possible a couple of more first downs could have added at least three more victories to West Virginia's win total - that's how important a reliable big back can mean to a team. Though still very big, a much slimmer Clarke is getting reps at both the fullback and tailback positions.

“I’m running a little tailback in the short yardage stands and doing pretty well getting three or four yards every play, so that is good when you only need two yards,” Clarke said. “I’m just trying to run the ball hard every play and more so blocking - lead blocking on some plays at the goal line and playing a little bit of fullback.”

The difference in body shape is very apparent and he no longer has to worry about the amount of energy he exerts on each play.

“Practice is hard, but I’m able to maintain my stamina and go hard every play,” Clarke said. “I can do the things I need to do on the field.”

The Glen Burnie, Md., resident, who admittedly looks up to old-school running backs like Jim Brown and Christian Okoye, just wants to go out and play hard every play and do what he can do to help his teammates out.

“I know most of the plays now and key blocks, and I know if the defense reacts one way where I am supposed to go and all of the different adjustments,” Clarke said. “I’m growing in that part every day.”

And although Clarke has clawed up the depth chart for now, he knows at anytime he can fall right back down.

“I’m going to do my best; I’m going to try and get yardage when they put me in. When they put me in with the first team, it was hard at first,” Clarke said. “I didn’t know all of the plays and blocking schemes, but I pick it up everyday and the older players have been helping me with it.”

As a redshirt freshman, Clarke will now be looking to make use of the full opportunity that he passed up last season.