'Rare breed' TE coveted by Vols

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Pressure comes off the edge. The quarterback rolls out. Wide receivers blanketed. Where to go with the football?

A 6-foot-6, 245-pounder springs open underneath. Pass complete. First down.

Having a tight end as a safety net not only keeps quarterbacks off the turf, but he moves the chains and extends drives.

Chris Clark is the fastest-rising name at tight end in the Class of 2015…and understandably so.

"Coaches say that I'm a rare breed in terms of being at a position where a down guy who is a junior but has good size at 245 pounds and I can run," Clark told InsideTennessee.

"I'm just versatile in terms of I can do a lot on the football field at the tight end position. I'm one of those tight ends that's like a hybrid that can do a lot of things, which coaches really like a lot."

Clark attends Old Farms School in Avon, Conn. The Scout network recently reconfigured its rankings for the '15 class and Clark skyrocketed nearly two dozen spots in the positional rankings, winding up as the No. 4 tight end. He is also now a four-star prospect.

The junior is taking all the attention in stride.

"I'm not trying to sound cocky or anything, but all my life I knew this was a path I was going to have just because I've been gifted with great football ability ever since I was young. I'm really excited it's all coming together now. It definitely is a dream come true with all these offers and stuff. I had confidence in my abilities that this was all going to work itself out."

New England's second-highest rated recruit started hearing from Tennessee roughly two months ago and finds himself at the top of the Volunteers' recruiting board with just one scholarship available to a tight end in the '15 class.

Tight ends coach Mark Elder is leading the charge to land Clark.

"I've been talking to him (Elder) since December a little bit," Clark said. "I finally got to meet him in person (in January). I think he's a great guy. He's a great recruiter. He really tells you about Tennessee, the facts about the school, the history of the program and where they're going, the facilities and everything.

"He knows the position well, knows how to work the position and has been successful with tight ends. He's a sincere guy, an honest guy. I can see myself having a great relationship with him. I liked hanging out with him."

The four-star knows all about what it takes to be successful both as a blocker and a pass catcher. One of the best going is a former Vol.

"People have said I kind of remind them a little bit of Jason Witten," Clark said. "It's definitely humbling to hear that. He's definitely a player that I watch a lot. He's an awesome player with the Cowboys on top of what he did at Tennessee. He's an awesome guy."

Tennessee is not alone in its pursuit of Clark, who has added a double-digit number of offers in the last 45 days.

"Georgia was the first one," he said. "Then, Ohio State was big. Tennessee is awesome, a great school. My first SEC offers were Vandy, Georgia and Tennessee, but Georgia was definitely the big one being the first one you get."

Riding the pine is not something Clark sees as an option.

"Any school I go to — I'm a really competitive kid — I'm going to work my butt off to try to get on the field as a freshman. I've never set on the bench my entire life, and I don't plan on sitting on the bench freshman year. I'm not saying I'm definitely going to start, but I'm definitely going to work my ass off and hopefully get some time and that's the goal."

Iowa and Maryland are two of the latest schools to offer. Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington could all be coming down the pipe soon.

He has already been to Athens to see what Georgia has to offer. This spring, he also plans to check out Arizona State and Miami (Fla.). He has a visit to Ohio State scheduled for March 21. Before April hits, he wants to see a spring workout at Tennessee.

"I'm not going to do any junior days. I think all my unofficials are just going to be me and my dad, kind of getting a chance to really chill with coaches by myself," he said.

<A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7039280>Rob Gronkowski</A>
ELDER
The conference in which he plays isn't an overly important factor in his recruitment.

"Obviously everyone's dream is to play with the best league, which is the SEC," Clark said. "So, I mean I can't really say. I think it's between… I mean the SEC would be awesome but I've got to pick the school that's right for me. If that's the SEC, then that's where I'm going to play. But, if it's somewhere else then I'm fine with that, too."

A public declaration is expected before his 2014 season at Old Farms gets underway.

"Definitely going to be before my senior season starts," Clark said. "So, sometime before my season starts in the beginning of September. I'm thinking anytime between the next couple months (and the season). The decision will definitely be made by then.

"I don't plan on taking all my officials (visits). I'm just going to commit and take one official to the school I commit to.

"It's going to be nice to know where I'm going to play my college ball, so I can focus on my senior season and finishing out high school."

In 2013, Clark caught 40 passes for 440 yards with seven touchdowns.

He looks up to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, calling him a "very physical and gifted athlete."

Clark quit basketball to crank up his training for football. He hopes to step foot on a college campus at "an athletic 255."

"Obviously in a college weight program you're going to get a lot of muscle mass," he said.

"I'm never going to grow into a tackle. Some say I could, but I'm always going to be a tight end and that's all the coaches tell me."

This spring, he will compete for the Old Farms track team, participating in the discus, 400-meter dash, long jump and shotput. He "plans" to enroll in college in January.

Discuss the recruitment of Clark with InsideTennessee analysts and subscribers by clicking here.

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the Scout team July 2011.
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