Meeting A Need

Scoring a touchdown on your first touch as a college football player has to be one of the best feelings ever. Doubt that? Just ask redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke, who scored scored on a two-yard run in the Mountaineers home opener against Liberty.

"A feeling came over me and I felt like this is what I am here for," said Clarke as he described the magic moment. " I knew the play call, so I knew that I was going to get the ball. I'm finally helping my team out and finally being able to play. When I got in the end zone, I just wanted to celebrate. I was very happy."

Although many players would likely be nervous before playing in front of the crowd that gathers for home games at Mountaineer Field, Clarke felt as though practices, and his year in the program, have prepared him well for game time.

"We practice hard, so [games] are just like practice except it‘s against other players," said Clarke. "When it's against other players it makes you want to go harder so you can help the team more. It‘s easy to adjust."

After being rotated with fellow fullback, Ricky Kovatch, Clarke was put in on special teams for the second half of the game. After struggling in the first half, the kickoff team seemed to get the hang of stopping Liberty, and Clarke may have been a key component to that improvement.

"I went in at the beginning of the third quarter," said Clarke. "He put me in and he just wanted me to hit somebody. I'm comfortable. It's something [Coach Stewart] wants me to do to help the team win, and if it's making the kickoff team better then I am willing to do it. We really didn't change anything [the second half]. We just did our assignments. When [the coaches] called a call, we went to that side or blocked wherever the coaches told us to. One of the players I was with, Jordan Roberts, he loves to hit. He said ‘Let's go down and smash people.'"

Such an attitude is vital on coverage teams, where sheer will is often the determining factor between containment and a big gain. Given their success, it won't be a surprise to see them again manning spots on the coverage squad this Saturday.

With a stocky build (six feet, 239 pounds), Clarke admits that he is suited to a blocking role, and that he is willing to fill that need until short yardage situations arise. Then, he'll move behind Kovatch and become the power runner West Virginia desperately lacked last year. Clarke was not always as comfortable there as he is now. The story of his development from an overweight freshman to power runner a year later is well-known, and he doesn't shy away from the fact that the 25 pounds he lost has helped him in many ways.

"I feel a lot different," admitted Clarke. "I can move a lot better. I'm in a better condition on the field. I'm not tired, like at all. Practice goes by really smooth."

Although he will not get as many touches as some of the other members of the West Virginia offense, Clarke looks to be the answer to the short yardage problem that plagued the Mountaineers last season. In addition to his score, he picked up three yards on a third and two situation later in the game to secure another first down for his team. And although just two carries might seem like a small role, he kows the importance of the few carries he will get. Most will come in key situations, with WVU needing a first down to keep a drive going or a score to cap a drive.

"I'm just going to push and get as many yards as I can," said Clarke. "For them to put me in those kinds of situations, they are obviously depending on me, so I am going to try and do my job."

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