In the case of Walter Clark, Johnson discovered him last August... on fraternity row.
Clark, an honors student from the prestigious Brooklyn (N. Y.) Technical High School, had come to Vanderbilt primarily to study biomedical engineering. But with a long list of honors as a high school player, Clark was cocksure he could also earn a spot on the Commodore football team if granted a tryout.
"There was no doubt in my mind," says Clark.
Johnson remembers that Clark first introduced himself last fall at a social function on fraternity row.
"Walter asked if we let walk-ons try out for the team, and I said, sure," said Johnson. "He said he wanted to play, and later he just kind of showed up in our offices.
"He definitely had a good spring, and he's got some ability. We're needing some receivers right now."
Wearing Lew Thomas' old number (4), Clark raised some eyebrows in the spring-- which was great news for a receiving corps that lost its top two pass-catchers (Dan Stricker and M. J. Garrett) to graduation, and another promising young receiver (Grant Brigham) to a transfer.
Clark was a two-year captain and four-year starter at both wide receiver and safety for Brooklyn Tech. His senior year he registered 434 receiving yards, and was named both All-City and All-Borough.
He is the only player on the Vanderbilt roster from the state of New York.
"When I came here, there was no doubt I wanted to play football," says Clark.
The 3,000 or so spectators at the Black and Gold Scrimmage witnessed some of his ability. The 6-1, 180-pounder hauled in a pass for a first down, and demonstrated some serious quicks.
Unlike a number of other walk-ons who are invited by the coaches, Clark received no such invitation before reporting to Vanderbilt. He began the team's strenuous physical training regimen last fall, but decided to wait until the following spring to attempt to join the team.
"Since I got here the coaches have been very good, very encouraging," said Clark. "They've been teaching me. Since I started late, I had to learn a lot of stuff. They've been very patient with me."
Receiver is a big question mark for the 2003 Commodores-- outside of junior Brandon Smith, there's very little experience. Erik Davis and Chris Young are both talented and potentially explosive, but largely untested. Likewise Keith Williams and Jason Caldwell. The coaches hope that two promising scholarship freshmen, George Smith and Marlon White, can add some quality depth in the fall.
A redshirt freshman in eligibility, Clark will compete against this group of pass-catching specialists this fall for playing time, and will have a full four years of eligibility ahead if he perseveres.
"I work hard in school," said Clark. "Outside of school and football, there's not a whole lot of time for much else. Watching film, maybe."
Another walk-on who could compete for a wide receiver spot this fall is Jason Burns, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. Burns played quarterback at St. Augustine, where current Commodore wide receiver Brandon Smith was one of his frequent targets.
In Vanderbilt's spring practice Burns played at wide receiver, but he could also still provide emergency depth at quarterback if needed. The Commodores should have four scholarship quarterbacks on campus this fall.
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