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Sikeston Standard Democrat Football players of the Year - Ray Clark - Defensive Player

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ray Clark
SIKESTON -- When Sikeston senior Ray Clark has it in his mind that he's going to make a tackle, well, good luck trying to stop him.

Adding to that tenacity, Clark has a nose comparable to a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out tackles. It looks as if he knows what's going to happen even before the ball is snapped.

"Sometimes I do," said Clark. "Sometimes I get good reads and get there before they get across the line of scrimmage. Sometimes I just have to end up in chasing mode."

Whenever an opposing offensive player hit the ground, more often times than not, a No. 22 Sikeston Bulldog jersey would pop up close by celebrating yet another tackle.

Clark produced tackle after tackle for the 2010 Bulldogs all while directing an almost immovable defense that allowed a measly 11.3 points a game from his position at linebacker ending an impressive career as one of the top linebackers in the state.

"If you watched him play, there weren't many times where you look out there and Ray Clark's not where he's supposed to be or not making a play when he's there," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "That kind of consistency certainly helped our defense and it helps you game plan when you have someone like that."

Clark established himself as a defensive force during his All-State junior year when he accumulated 161 tackles. Just this past season, Clark eclipsed even those lofty numbers with 166 tackles. He holds the second and third place slots in Sikeston school history for tackles in a season behind Jacob Priday's 176 in 2002.

He has also made his mark state-wide with 397 career tackles -- tops in school history and seventh in state history.

"Ray evolved into that," said Gibbs. "He was a big player on our previous year's team and, obviously, being an All-State football player as a junior, it's a little bit of pressure and you wonder how he's going to handle that.

"But, he come through (this year) and had a fine year. You add it all up and he had a fine career. No doubt about that."

Although he was one of the many senior leaders this season, he wasn't much of a vocal one. There were instances of that, however, but for the most part, Clark led with his play on the field and, maybe more importantly, with his time off of it.

"The biggest thing is he leads by example," said Gibbs. "He's a student of the game. He studies assignments, he studies what the other team does and he cares how he plays. He puts a lot of effort into it mentally."

For Clark, there's no secret to tackling. His first step doesn't even involve him.

"First off all, you have to have a great d-line," he said. "Our d-line the past few years have kept the (offensive) linemen off of me, which I thank them a lot for doing that."

The second and third steps, however, is all Clark.

"The second step is probably knowing how to read the play. Third is just quickness -- just getting to the ball as fast as you can."

Clark possesses a rare mix of speed and power. Not many facing him on the other side of the line of scrimmage could out-run or shake Clark, who runs a 4.5 second forty-yard dash time, once he had them pegged.

And how unlucky for them it would be if Clark squared them up for the big hit, jolting his defense into a frenzy.

"It makes me happy to know that I can go out there and run some other guy over," Clark said with a smile. "Just lay them out. We live for (a big hit), but we don't go for it every time. As long as we get them down we'll be happy. That occasional big hit will get the whole defense up and ready to play."

As many high school seniors are doing, Clark is still weighing his options when it comes to the next step, although there are many colleges drawing interest in the 6-foot, 1-inch, 180 pound linebacker. Though, it will take the perfect fit for Clark to put on another jersey.

"I really don't know where I want to go right now," said Clark. "I know I want to major in business administration. So, I'm also looking at that while I look at colleges."

Southern Illinois University, Murray State, Northwest Missouri State and others are currently seeking Clark.

"He's got to be recruited by a place that he wants to go and recruited to a place that's going to offer him, academically, what he wants," Gibbs said. "He's a fine student and he has goals other than just football.

"The 'want to' is there and I think there will be some interest from colleges there and if they can get the right fit, hopefully, we'll be able to keep up with him playing football for several years."

It may be awhile before that No. 22 Sikeston jersey is worn quite the way Clark sported it. But for the time he had it on, he enjoyed every minute of it.

"It makes me happy to know we made this town so proud to go out there and do what we did," Clark said. "Most of us, we just went out there for fun and it is fun winning.

"I'm going to be a Bulldog for life. This team is probably filled with the best players I've played with. Ever since JC league I knew we were going to be good -- something good for this town."

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