Season recap: Nate Clarke
Rick Houchens still chuckles when thinking back to his first impression of Nate Clarke.
The first-year Archbishop Carroll (D.C.) football coach saw a 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman that oozed potential. But Houchens also saw a player that was far from a finished product.
“I told him he had Frankenstein feet,” Houchens said. “He was this big dude and he walked on his heels. He was stiff-legged and could barely bend his knees. And that’s how Nate used to run.”
Clarke, who committed to Maryland in July, went through Houchens’ intense offseason training program -- something the former Eleanor Roosevelt coach implemented as soon as he took over the Lions’ moribund program. Thanks to that rigorous training regimen, Houchens saw a transformation in Clarke’s game this season.
“We were playing Paul VI over in Virginia on their homecoming in front of a packed house. It was one of those great Friday night high school games under the lights,” Houchens said. “And man, he was just ... I don’t know what was in the water that night, but our whole team played on another level. That was probably the most physical I had seen him play all year long. He probably had four pancakes that night where he just leveled guys. Not only did he level them, he was laying there on them like, ‘I just smashed you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ He was just inflicting his will.”
Archbishop Carroll improved from a 1-9 team in 2008 to a 2-8 squad this year. It will take some time for the Lions to reach Houchens’ goals for the program, but Clarke did his best to contribute to the rebuilding process. Houchens said his only regret is that he got to coach Clarke for just one season -- albeit a season in which Clarke lived up to his four-star ranking.
“He had 77 or 78 tackles, finished up with about nine sacks,” Houchens said. “He also had about 30-some assists, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, so he had some pretty good defensive stats. Offensively, I think he finished the year with about 18 pancakes. So overall, he had a very, very good year. ... He has a great work ethic in the weight room ... and it was great to see how far [Clarke and linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu] have come. It’s very, very self-gratifying to see those kids. Barring injury, I think they’re both going to have very good college careers.”
The biggest question facing Clarke is which side of the ball he will play on when he suits up for the Terps. Clarke’s preference is defense, according to Houchens, but some coaches feel his upside may be higher on offense.
“When you see a big guy, everyone wants him. Defensive coaches want him on the defensive side and offensive coaches want him on the offensive side,” Houchens said. “I think the majority of people -- because he has such good feet and was mobile -- liked him more on the offensive side. ... Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Kansas State and a bunch of other schools had more interest in him offensively vs. defensively. He likes playing defense. But he was very open-minded about it.”
No matter where Clarke ends up, Houchens is confident that he will do what it takes to ensure success.
“If he continues going, I look for him to have a great college career,” Houchens said. “He runs well, he’s strong, he has good feet and he’s athletic. So he’s got all the tools to be a good one.”