A Shot At Living Dream Of Playing For Terps

Maryland Football

July 30, 2009|By Matt Bracken | Matt Bracken,mbracken@baltimoresun.com

Growing up just a few miles from the University of Maryland campus, Nate Clarke would occasionally spend his days dreaming of what it would be like to one day become a UM athlete.

Basketball was the Archbishop Carroll lineman's first love, but a trip to Byrd Stadium at age 10 left a lasting impression.

"I thought just to walk [into the stadium and see] the field was amazing," Clarke said. "I remember [visiting] as a kid and having that feeling that it was like the pros. It was amazing, especially when you saw the players and the jerseys. Just seeing them, it was like the NFL. It was a dream come true."

Now he has a chance to realize that childhood dream. Clarke, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound four-star prospect, committed to Maryland on Tuesday, picking the Terps over Kansas State. He also fielded interest from Illinois, Michigan State, Boston College, Virginia, Louisville and several other programs.

Clarke was in awe of that first trip to Byrd Stadium nearly seven years ago, but it wasn't until high school that he got his own taste of football. Archbishop Carroll offered Clarke a football scholarship as an eighth-grader. He promptly accepted and enrolled in the Washington school as a freshman.

The Lions went 3-16 during Clarke's first two years. Visiting the weight room and going through offseason workouts were foreign concepts to Clarke. He was big and talented but needed someone to hone that potential. After Clarke's sophomore season, Archbishop Carroll hired former Eleanor Roosevelt coach Rick Houchens. While the Lions went 1-9 last fall in Houchens' first season, the change proved advantageous for Clarke.

"It was life-changing. Rick Houchens was an inspiration to me," Clarke said. "I remember the first time I saw him, I was kind of upset about my old coach leaving. But the way he talked to us, it was an inspiration how he didn't want to lose. He knew he could turn this program around, and he definitely has turned it around.

"Before he came, it was more lackadaisical. He really changed us. He knows how to prepare you for college to succeed. ... I don't think I would be where I am today if it wasn't for him."

Houchens said Clarke emerged as a leader for Archbishop Carroll right away, especially in the weight room. Clarke embraced his new coach's weight-training techniques and shed at least 10 pounds of "baby fat," Houchens said.

"When I first took over and met the kids ... Nate was just one of those kids that stuck out," Houchens said. "I said, 'You're going to be my man-child,' because he just looked like a child in a man's body. ... He's just one of those guys that has a bunch of potential and is really willing to pay his dues work-wise and really do what it takes. His best football is still way, way ahead of him. He's just beginning to touch the tip of the iceberg. If the kid is willing to make his sacrifices and commit, he can be pretty special."

Rivals.com rates Clarke the No. 11 offensive guard in the country. Houchens said parts of Clarke's game remind him of former Terp Jared Gaither, now a Ravens offensive tackle. But there's still debate on Clarke's best position at the next level. Clarke said he prefers to play defensive tackle, and he'll will get that chance at Maryland. But it doesn't mean the UM offensive coaches will stop lobbying for him to play guard, Houchens said.

"When [Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin] saw him, he said: 'Oh, he's definitely a tackle. He can be a great tackle. He's got great feet,' " Houchens said. "And then, of course, two days later Coach [Don] Brown, the defensive coordinator, came over. He's looking at [linebacker] Jeremiah Attaochu [whom Maryland has offered]. And when he saw Nate, he came over and said: 'What about him? You didn't tell me about Nate Clarke.' So they offer him that day.

"They're going to let him play defensive tackle, but also look at him for offensive tackle as well. He can excel and contribute on each side of the ball. He's kind of a two-for-one guy. You have a guy you can plug in [on offense or defense]. It's a great opportunity for him."

Clarke said he can't wait to get back onto the field this fall. Archbishop Carroll's fortunes won't change overnight, Clarke said, but he expects major improvements to be evident immediately. After his senior goals are met, Clarke said, he's excited to suit up for the program he grew up following.

"I live right down the street, and I love this school," Clarke said. "We're going to win championships as soon as I get there or before. I can't wait to actually start the first day of practice, put on the uniform and show everybody what I have to offer."

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