MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In football, the term ‘off-season’ is often taken pretty lightly by the fans. Sure, players and coaches alike have time off to focus on other things, but football usually remains as one of those focuses. Spring football training is well underway and in some cases, it is even more important than the regular season.
If anyone knows how accurate that statement is, it’s Ryan Clarke
The senior is looking forward to playing his last year of football for the Mountaineers and he’s making sure that practice makes perfect this season.
Clarke came to West Virginia University in 2008 with high hopes of further pursuing what he did at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Maryland … and that was running and catching the football and making big offensive plays.
With 16 touchdowns during his first two seasons at WVU, one would say that he did his job. Last spring, however, Clarke learned how truly important spring training was. Things weren’t going as smoothly as they had been in prior years and Clarke was faced with a change - a position change, that is.
Last season, the coaching staff decided to turn number 32 into a blocker.
“It was just a part of football,” Clarke said about the transition. “It was a part of the coaching change. I really didn’t pay too much attention to it. I’m willing to help my team whichever way I’m needed to, so it didn’t matter to me in the end.”
With a great outlook about his new challenge, Clarke accepted his task and turned out to perform well as a fullback. He thinks it was a great opportunity to become a more well-rounded football player.
“It helped me out a lot,” Clarke said. “I’m learning to be even better in my blocking and I’m learning how to be a better running back at the same time. It’s helped me to be a better all-around back.”
As the lesson was clearly learned last year, the Glen Burnie, Md., resident knew that this spring truly was a new chance to prove himself. He worked hard and successfully accepted the challenges last season presented and now he’s reaping the benefits.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie told Clarke last season that if he could fulfill his job as a blocker, then Clarke would have the opportunity down the road to get some more carries.
This spring, he’s doing just that.
“He’s a man of his word,” Clarke said of Gillespie. “(Last season) I basically just turned my whole game around and focused on blocking. After I did that, he stayed true to his word.”
Clarke seems to be in his comfort zone once again this spring, performing well in practices and securing the ball like he did two seasons ago. He’s a player who has proven his dedication to his team and now that he’s back to where he wanted to be, he sure isn’t complaining.
“It feels good. It’s a privilege. I’m just trying to take advantage of it and making sure no problems occur,” he said. “I’m loving it.”
Not only is he back in a role he loves, but Clarke can now also be considered one of the newfound leaders on the team. He and senior teammate Shawne Alston
have experienced a lot wearing the WVU uniform and they are looking to share their experiences with the younger players.
“I’ve been here the longest so I feel like the guys look up to me a lot; I feel like it’s a job that I have to do, step up and be a leader, me and Shawne both,” Clarke admitted.
Alston, Andrew Buie
and Dustin Garrison
join Clarke as the team’s running backs. Clarke believes that because there are so many different backs in the program, the three-back set Holgorsen has been using some this spring will work well.
“It could be very effective. Me and Shawne are big backs. We can both block and we can run,” Clarke said. “Dustin and Buie are a lot faster, but they can both block; a lot of people probably don’t know that, but they can block just as well as us.”
Is that intimidating or perhaps threatening to the senior? Not a chance. Clarke said that if he continues to perform well he believes he is going to be involved a lot in the offense throughout this season.
Clarke is making the best of spring ball and is taking every opportunity to shine in his final football season as a Mountaineer.
“They say everything is an audition so I feel like if I keep producing, I’m going be able to make it easier for them to put me in the game. That’s the goal.”
In high school, Clarke helped his team to two state titles. He’s made it very clear - then and now - that he is a selfless player. He is willing to do whatever it takes for his team to succeed.
Through ups and downs, he has never lost sight of his own goal. Clarke said he’s kept his head up largely because of God and his love of the game.
He said he will continue to rely on his faith - and three years worth of experience - to lead the Mountaineers to a successful inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference.
“I’m just trying to be successful no matter what I have to do. Whether it’s blocking or running the ball, I’m just trying to be better at football,” he concluded.