There have been few Alabama players over the last couple years I’ve loved more than Ronnie Clark. Clark was a 4 star, top 75 recruit out of Calera, Alabama in the Class of 2014 and the 8th highest rated recruit for the Tide that year.
He played quarterback and safety his senior year of high school and practiced at both safety and running back his freshman year. Unfortunately, Clark tore his Achilles in October, missing the rest of the season and redshirting.
Clark worked his way back and appeared to have a better shot at seeing some playing time in 2015. T.J. Yeldon was gone to the NFL; and Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones transferred and were dismissed from the team, respectively. Bo Scarbrough suffered a torn ACL, and freshman DeSherrius Flowers was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Clark still played sparingly, though, appearing in three games and carrying the ball 5 times for 20 yards.
2016 would be no better for Clark. On the final day of spring practices, Clark tore his other Achilles tendon. He didn’t give up, however. He kept working; and he recovered quickly enough to play against Mississippi State in November, rushing for 14 yards on 4 carries.
This could not have been the career Clark imagined. After three years, he had suffered two terrible injuries and was buried down the depth chart as Alabama continued to recruit new highly-rated players. At this point, it’s easy to imagine a player wanting a new start and transferring somewhere else where he could see real playing time. Who could blame him?
Plus, Clark’s football future was not the only thing weighing on him.
Kimberly Clark was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when Ronnie was about 12 years old. Because his father Ronnie Sr. was gone three or four days a week for his job with the railroad, the younger Ronnie became his mother’s primary caretaker. He cleaned the house. He cooked meals. He washed dishes. He even learned to drive before he was 16 so he could run errands.
He had been dealing with adversity for years.
Clark did not end up transferring. He just kept working. The team needed him to practice as a tight end and H-back, so that’s what he did. He put the team first.
2017 finally promised to be better. He was well more than a year removed from the second Achilles. Clark wasn’t likely to leapfrog his way up the depth chart, of course; but he was healthy and could play during mop-up duty. The 2017 season proved to be the best of his career. On the year, Clark rushed 21 times for 107 yards while appearing in 5 games. A week after rushing for a career-high 10 times against Vanderbilt, Clark had his best carry against Ole Miss.
If that doesn’t make you smile or warm your heart, you’re a monster. You can also see the respect his teammates had for him with how quickly he was swarmed.
Clark worked through so much, both on and off the field; and his commitment paid off. He again could have transferred after 2017 - he also earned his degree that December - to find playing time with his last year of eligibility, but Clark returned for his fifth year in the program. He played in 4 games, rushing for 33 yards on 10 carries.
For his career, Clark had 40 carries for 174 yards with the 1 touchdown; and he played four different positions. That could not have been how the 4 star recruit imagined things going. Clark stayed with Alabama, however. He could have left, but he didn’t. Clark stuck with it and did whatever was asked of him, even though he knew his playing time would be limited at best.
After the 2017 season, Clark was one of the players who won the team’s Iron Man Award, which goes to “To the players who have shown the most dedication to the individual and team goals of the Crimson Tide’s year-round strength and conditioning program.” After the 2018 season, Clark was one of the players who won the Unsung Hero Award, which goes to “To the players who have made significant contributions to the success of the team and received the least recognition for it.”
I’m just going to pull some more Saban quotes from that article from The Athletic.
“Guys like Ronnie Clark set a tremendous example,” Saban said. “He’s never been a star player, but gets to play here and there a little bit. There’s not a more willing soul on our team to do whatever he needs to do. If he needs to go to scout team and be a running back, he’ll do it. If he needs to get in goal-line and be a fullback, he’ll do it.
And Saban truly summed up how I feel about Clark.
“the ultimate great story … and what college football should be all about.”
I hate that Clark’s career was hampered by injuries and that never got a larger opportunity, but the fact that he persevered through it all and stayed with Alabama makes me love him all the more.
Roll Tide, Ronnie.