Most people thought Clarence Clark was crazy.
Scoring goals is fun, right? You get to be the hero, maybe some newspaper clippings or headlines, lots of attention.
So why was the then-sophomore Clark volunteering himself to go back to defense permanently for his junior and senior seasons in high school?
“I wasn’t technical, I didn’t have the technical skills to play the position,” he said. “You’re fast, and can score goals, but into the higher levels it isn’t just about being fast.”
Perhaps his greatest strength — and there are many given his speed, bullish body type and aggressiveness — was knowing what wasn’t his strength. The Brophy senior and Tribune Player of the Year finished his high school fútbol career with five losses, 34 goals allowed, 69 wins, two state titles and a runner-up in his three years.
That’s without his three-year football career at wide receiver (he didn’t play football until being convinced by parents and coaches as a sophomore). Or his current project as a makeshift actor in the school’s presentation of “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum,” where he plays a soldier.
As for soccer, his size and physicality has evolved since he took up football four years ago, but after his soccer position switch three years ago, “I run fast and play like an 8-year-old soccer player,” he said. “Keep it simple.”
A team captain this season, he was voted to the “Best 11” post-tournament honors at the Montverde Academy Soccer Tournament in Florida each of the past two seasons, where (literally) the best teams in the nation often gather to play one another.
Besides three big performances in Florida which stood out to Broncos coach Marc Kelly, Clark made several key stops and deflections in both the Division I semifinals and championship matches as the center defender. And despite his affable personality, the rarely-spoken aspect of his leadership came through when Kelly opted to suspend four starters for the first half of the championship victory against Desert Vista after excessive celebration after a goal in the semifinals.
“Other players had to come in big-game situations, but I said to the 11 on the field, I don’t care who’s here and who’s not,” Clark said. “I think it was a good decision because we were told (six days prior) by our principal not to do it. It wasn’t (the kids’) best decision to do it, but we played on.”
He felt he found his place early in the 2011-2012 season when – after joining the team late because of football playoffs — he survived being the so-called “sweeper” against a loaded Chaparral team. The Broncos lost 2-1, but a defensive stalwort was found.
“He’s indispensable to our success over the past three years, he’s the reason we could always play a 3-defender system (instead of 4- or 5-), even against the best teams in the country,” Kelly said. “He was the captain and leader, and one of the best I’ve ever had.”
As for the future, Kelly is baffled that more schools haven’t offered Clark a soccer scholarship, and while he said his track career will continue, choosing a sport between football and fútbol at the next level remains a hot-button issue for him.
“I decided defense was my future,” he said. “I like being the guy and basically the last guy before the net. It feels good when you defend well and kick the ball away. It’s kind of deflating to other teams when you do it often enough.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.