In one short month, Michael Clark went from another name on a list to the name on top of a prestigious list.
Clark started as a fullback for Shadow Ridge in 2018 despite his frame of just under 180 pounds, clearing a path for senior Julian Toles and gaining 322 yards.
He exceeded that total by the third game of his senior season. A 261-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 4 against Willow Canyon vaulted Clark to the top of the 6A rushing yardage list — and he’s led the big boy conference ever since.
“I was excited. I went straight to the offensive line and said, ‘Thank you,’” Clark said. “We keep working together, we’re going to keep gaining yards and winning games. The Willow game, I probably had one of the best games I’ve had at any level of football.”
According to MaxPreps, Clark enters the final game of the season in a dead heat for the 6A crown. He and Boulder Creek senior Jacob Cisneros are tied at 1,278 yards entering tinight's games.
He burst onto the varsity scene suddenly and waiteduntil his senior year to emerge, but some background reveals Clark as a prolific youth player and a student of the game.
Clark said he picked up his full-tilt style watching a star on his favorite college team.
“I was a huge fan of the Oklahoma Sooners because my dad grew up watching them and my favorite player of all time has to be DeMarco Murray. I copied my running style from him,” Clark said.
Not long after Murray moved on from the Sooners to the Dallas Cowboys, Clark started standing out in the local National Youth Sports football league.
His future Shadow Ridge coach, Bob Chappelle, was able to see him play from age 11.
“My son (Jack) is a junior and Michael and him played NYS together. I knew from back then that he was a hard-running kid. I was always worried that he wasn’t real big. He was a little thin and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re going to knock yourself out when you’re out there,’” Chappelle said.
Perhaps it’s fitting then, that the young and undersized back learned from and was inspired by 5-5 dynamo Scotty Nixon for his first two years. Nixon now plays for OUAZ.
As a junior, Clark took part in a throwback style of tradition — playing fullback for an I-formation team that ran very heavily.
He often ran the trap and belly plays.
“By the end of last year, we had total confidence in him. He has great vision. By the last three or four games of the year, he was carrying 10 to 15 times a game for us,” Chappelle said.
Isaiah Mercado and Mikey Lyon were back as offensive line starters. Juniors Jack Chappelle, Justin Hernandez and Chris Stoica moved up from JV and quickly reformed their bond with Clark.
They quickly gelled again.
“I was ready all summer and working for it. And I knew if I worked hard for it, I would be where I am right now,” Clark said. “I played with Mikey and Isaiah in the past. We always had a great chemistry and it was easy for us to click.”
Chappelle said his top runner is a one- cut-and-go style of back. So he is not surprised Clark flourished in a more traditional offensive set.
“There’s definitely not a lot of teams out there running two-back sets. We pride ourselves on that and pride ourselves in being a power run game. Our offensive lineman power step. We move people. And we play-action pass off of it,” Chappelle said. “I knew Michael would adapt to it because he’s a hard downhill runner. That’s what we’re looking for.”
While Clark benefitted from more carries than many of his peers in a spread offense, he sported a healthy 7.6 yards-percarry average through eight games. That is about a half-yard per rush better than Cisneros.
As much faith as Chappelle had in his back, he admitted some shock at how well it has gone.
“We felt we were going to be pretty good in the offensive line. And we had three backs at that time that we were going to see which one rose to the top. Michael stood out above and beyond in summer ball and also going into the season,” Chappelle said. “Did I think he would be the state 6A leading rusher at this point? No. That’s been a total surprise which has been not only awesome for Michael, but our offensive line has taken great pride in it.”
Colleges were also taken by surprise and just started to recruit Clark around midseason.
Chappelle said local NAIA schools Ottawa Arizona and Arizona Christian have been impressed.
For Clark’s part he said he always wanted to play football in college, no matter where or what level. Chapelle said the tailback’s high GPA will make him a target for Division III universities too.
When he gets to college, Clark said he plans to study marketing or fire science.
And he has no regrets about his late emergence as a football star.
“ I’m glad where I ended up. My senior year couldn’t have been any better for me,” Clark said.