08/22/13 — Golden Falcons' Clark finding his niche

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Golden Falcons' Clark finding his niche

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 22, 2013 1:47 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Steve Brooks calls Neil Clark one of the best running backs he's ever coached.

The first-year Charles B. Aycock head football coach has said he'd bet his house on Clark against a linebacker in space. That's high praise for Clark, who has never spent a full varsity season in the backfield.

Brooks likes the senior's versatility and athletic ability.

"I make the joke with Neil all the time that I would bet my house on him in space versus a linebacker," Brooks said. "That's from New Bern down, whoever we play. I'll bet my house on him one-on-one with a linebacker."

Clark shifted from receiver to starting tailback when Jeremy Hooks sustained a concussion in the second game of the season. He spent three games in the backfield and concluded the year with 518 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 73 carries.

Clark also caught 15 passes, including two TDs, for 192 yards.

"That was a big hit when Jeremy got hurt since he was the starting running back, but I felt like I could do the job," Clark said. "I felt like I can play any position now and know what I'm doing. I know what's expected and how to operate.

"It made me more flexible."

Athleticism makes Clark an unidentifiable player -- he can play numerous positions. Blessed with speed, Clark can run past defenders and has the shiftiness to avoid a tackler in open space. His strength gives him the ability to shake off an opponent.

Clark's biggest asset is his vision.

"Neil is among the top two or three backs that I've been around," Brooks said. "Just the power that he runs with and his vision is unbelievable. You don't notice a kid's vision in practice, but his vision in the scrimmage games we've had has been like a back that's played two or three years in college.

"He has great instinct for knowing when to cut and knowing when the hole is going to close and to make a move."

Brooks has countless options in his shotgun-oriented wing-T offense with the versatile Clark on the field. He can line him up at receiver, which causes a defensive coordinator to cover with either a linebacker or defensive back.

"His athletic ability really opens up our playbook," Brooks said. "Being the fact that he's played receiver before, he has great hands, he has great knowledge of the game where people are playing and what they're trying to take away.

"I think that has helped our offense tremendously, and we are going to be able to have a lot of fun with him in a lot of different places and get him out in space."