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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Clark Blocks Out Distractions

Newbury Park's 6-6, 270-pound tackle keeps his life on track despite a splintered support system.

August 26, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is more to life than a 10-point pop quiz in Spanish, a football playbook and Friday night parties.

At least in Philip Clark's world.

The Newbury Park High senior lives with his 23-year-old sister and legal guardian, Renae, and has pressing needs in addition to school, sports and a social life.

Clark's father lives in La Quinta and his mother lives in Las Vegas, leaving it up to Renae and Philip to buy groceries, pay electric bills and get themselves up in the morning at their apartment in Westlake Village.

Temptation to stray is always present, but going to church on Sunday is more important to Philip than directions to a Saturday night bash.

"Sometimes the things that come up, I have to think about the big picture in general," Clark said. "Having parties at my house is throwing away my life. It's not what I want to do.

"I don't like the whole party atmosphere, especially not now. If I got into that and started liking that, I'd be [in trouble]. My college dreams of playing would go downhill if I turned into an alcoholic or something like that."

Clark, who has lived with his sister for a year, grew up in Newbury Park and remembered watching Keith Smith wend his way toward 10,000 yards passing in his career.

Two years ago, Clark's dad moved to La Quinta. Clark, wanting to stay at Newbury Park, convinced his mother to relocate from Las Vegas. She did, but missing family and friends, eventually returned to Nevada, with both parents giving permission for Clark to stay with his sister. The parents support him financially.

Clark, who was 3 years old when his parents divorced, has the wherewithal to steer clear of football-related allurements that might not be in his best interest.

Clark, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound tackle, recently ran into a former Marmonte League standout who touted the benefits of steroids. Clark declined.

"It's a sign of weakness," Clark said. "If they kept on doing that, they'd probably get to the college level, but wouldn't get any further and would probably get busted. It's stupid. Eat all the right fruits and vegetables and you probably get just as big."

That is, if you mix in a workout akin to Clark's.

Imagine Coach George Hurley's surprise last spring when he glanced at the football field and saw Clark towing nearly 250 pounds while using a body harness that "looked like it was made in shop class," Hurley said.

The joke was on Hurley, however, when 45-pound weights started to disappear from the team weight room. Turns out that Clark borrowed the weights for his harness, worked out well beyond the time the weight room was locked up, and left them near the entrance to the room.

Maintenance workers would pick up the unattended weights and haul them to the lost and found. Hurley finally figured out the problem and discovered a treasure trove of sorts.

"I was all upset that people were taking them out of the weight room," Hurley said. "It was just Phil taking them."

Not that Hurley should complain.

Clark is the cornerstone on a team expected to challenge for the Marmonte League title.

Not much more than a big, slow galoot at the start of last season, he showed up late for two-a-days because of the death of a grandmother and needed several weeks to catch up.

By the time the fourth game rolled around, however, he asserted himself as a starter.

"It took him a little bit longer on that learning curve than others," Hurley said. "With his size as a sophomore, all he did was stand there and bull people over. It took him some time to develop technique [as a junior]."

He improved his footwork and, more important, his aggressiveness, particularly during the last few games of the season as Newbury Park made a surprising run to the semifinals of the Southern Section Division IV playoffs.

"I'd always get criticism that I was big and that I wasn't doing it out there," Clark said.

"I started thinking about it and I got really mad. I realized that if you're more mad and physical than the other guy, you're going to win. Ever since then, I've just gone crazy."

Now he has several Pacific 10 Conference schools inquiring about him.

His half brother, Jeremiah Clark, was a 6-5, 285-pound defensive end at Mesa (Ariz.) High who played briefly at Nebraska. Philip is hoping to stay closer to home, favoring UCLA, USC and San Diego State.

Wherever Clark goes, Hurley realizes he will miss one of the best lineman in Newbury Park history.

"Not everybody gets an ideal home life," Hurley said. "He's a survivor. He's not interested in hanging around the mall and [fooling] around."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

HOW THEY RATE

A look at the top offensive linemen in the region:

With comment by Eric Sondheimer

*--*

Rk Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. 1. Philip Clark Newbury Park 6-6 270 Sr.

*--*

Ready to become region's dominant lineman

*--*

Rk Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. 2. Chris Frome Hart 6-5 1/2 235 Jr.

*--*

Smart, athletic and mastering blocking techniques

*--*

Rk Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. 3. Mark Manning Westlake 6-1 300 Sr.

*--*

Thrives on protecting the quarterback

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