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From the Hardwood to the Gridiron: Michael Clark's undrafted journey to Green Bay

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From the Hardwood to the Gridiron: Michael Clark's undrafted journey to Green Bay

 When you scroll down the Packers' roster list, a few things may jump out at you.

It could be Aaron Rodgers being the most experienced player on the team in terms of accrued seasons in the league. It could be the influx of 12 cornerbacks who are expected to help improve a disastrous pass defense from a season ago. It could be the 23 undrafted rookie free agents currently vying for a roster spot.

But one thing that seems to stand out among the others are the two tallest skill position players on the team: zany tight end Martellus Bennett and unknown wide receiver Michael Clark.

Standing at 6'6"—some even chalking Clark down at 6'7"—the two offer their own distinctive qualities to help improve an already lethal passing attack in Green Bay. The only looming difference between the two is that one's roster spot is all but solidified.

The other's, not so much.

It's easy to guess who is who, as Bennett has made himself quite at home over the last few months ever since the Packers signed him in March. He's also been no stranger to the limelight with his widely-documented arrival to Green Bay after coming off of a Super Bowl win with the Patriots in February.

The 217-pound Clark, however, isn't as fortunate with calling Green Bay his long-term home.

Wearing No. 89 for the Packers is a Florida native who, prior to his one year of college football at Marshall, last played football during his freshman year of high school. A Florida native hopeful of tagging along with the Packers in 2017 despite not catching the very first pass thrown to him since his high school days in a practice. That was two years ago shortly after he transitioned from basketball player to football player.

Before, he was a forward for the Saint Francis Red Flash, based in Pennsylvania. He was a big body who averaged a measly 3.6 minutes per game in his lone season with the Red Flash and had a mere eight field goal attempts in that 12-game 2014 season, making only two of them.

Even as a component to a NCAA Division I basketball team, it didn't seem like the primary career path for Clark. The better course of action seemed evident, albeit hazy. It wasn't until Thundering Herd quarterback Chase Litton pointed out Clark specifically to his coaches at Marshall. Before he knew it, he was kicking aside his full-ride scholarship at St. Francis and embarking on the six-hour trek southward to West Virginia.

Clark's first season at Marshall was nearly nonexistent. He practiced. Nothing more. He spent his days re-sharpening the skills he had once honed in on in his youth, hoping to bring the best of his nearly 6'7" build to the collegiate level.

That's exactly what he did.

By 2016, he was ready to come in and contribute and after the steady dosage of practice after practice, rep after rep, Clark was a big-bodied force on the field, just as he was on the hardwood. He caught 37 passes for the Thundering Herd that season, including tying for the team-lead in touchdown receptions with five. He also led all receivers in receiving yards with 632, including averaging 17.1 yards per catch.

Clark goes vertical to make a tough catch over Southern Miss Golden Eagles cornerback Cornell Armstrong. (Chuck Cook, USA TODAY Sports)

The soft-spoken Clark was a major contributor offensively, and he demonstrated the instinctive traits picked up during his years playing basketball as he would learn to box out receivers using his frame and high-point the ball to make tough, contested catches.

At 21 years old, Clark would declare for the NFL Draft a year early and eventually sign with the Packers as an undrafted physical specimen.

To many, his lack of experience playing football, yet still landing with the Packers stands above his other measurables. But Clark's size is a hard element to stray away from acknowledging.

Clark ran a 4.53 at his Pro Day, coupled with his 17 repetitions on the bench press. His primary focus during that 2015 season at Marshall in which he sharpened his overall game was also on strengthening his lower body and conditioning himself to play the position. Despite this, he only recorded a 33-inch vertical jump, which is just below the 35.8 average for wide receivers.

“I’m still very, very, very raw. I haven’t played a lot of football, obviously," Clark told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The upside, I guess, is what my appeal is. My height is very rare. I can move. I can play inside or outside.

"It’s everybody’s dream to be a professional athlete. In Green Bay, I get a chance. It’s like the Yankees in football. They’re always winning. Just a great organization to start in. I had options but the situation at Green Bay was bar none."

It's no surprise that Clark had options with other teams given his measurements, and his decision to choose the Packers above the others likely leans on the winning culture that has gifted the city of Green Bay and fans across the world for the last two decades.

That has to be the major reason. Aside from being able to play under receivers coach Luke Getsy, who was born and grew up in Pennsylvania where Clark played basketball, the cards aren't necessarily stacked in Clark's favor when it comes to making the final roster. One would think playing for another team with a less-crowded wide receivers room would better suit Clark.

A crowded receivers room is exactly what Getsy inherited when he was promoted from offensive quality control coach to his current post in February of 2016.

The 12 cornerbacks on the Packers' roster listed earlier? The wide receivers match that number, and Clark is one of three undrafted rookies at his position to join the rat race in hopes of being one of the special 53 at the beginning of September. The Packers also have the newly-drafted DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre, drafted in the fifth and seventh rounds respectively.

Clark isn't the only basketball-turned-football star to sign with an NFC North team this offseason. The Bears signed the 6'6", 248-pound Franko House as a tight end in May, only to release him three weeks later. The hope is that the chips will fall differently for the Packers' pickup.

It's a steep hill to climb for Clark, but if roster spots were earned based solely off of numbers on paper, there wouldn't be much debate over where he belongs.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (12) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

SterlingSharpe's picture

Interesting specimen.
No photos here. Is the young man Asian?

Matt Weiske's picture

He's clearly African American in the picture but thanks for playing the racial game. Idiot!

Handsback's picture

The one attribute that stands out to me is the 17 reps on the bench press. Are you kidding me? His arms have to be 34-36 inch range and to push that bar that many times is pretty impressive.
His learning curve will be similar to Jeff Janis, but I can only imagine what a WR talant that tall could bring to the Packer's receiving corp. Those short CBs would always be worrying about their position with this guy.

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, that is no doubt impressive.

Matt Weiske's picture

I hope he makes the roster or gets signed to the practice squad. Nightmarish matchup.

RCPackerFan's picture

Clark is one of the most intriguing UDFA's the Packers signed this year.
His size and basketball background are definitely evident when watching any film on him. He has the knack for 'boxing players out' for any jump ball. He has a very good catching radius and for his size he has really good speed too.

What is really intriguing with Clark is the amount of upside he has if he can learn how to be a WR. You simply can't coach his size and speed. If he can learn the nuances of the WR position he could be developed into a true Red zone threat.

Clark is definitely one of the UDFA's I'm most looking forward to seeing this training camp.

A year on the practice squad would do wonders for Clark. I won't rule him out of making the 53 or anything, but like the article says, he has a steep Hill to climb to make it.

Since '61's picture

Hopefully he does enough during the preseason to make it the PS. With his height and his ability to box out opponents he would be great to have available for the red zone and the Hail Mary play if he evolves to the point of reaching the 53 man roster someday. Thanks, Since '61

Jonathan Spader's picture

"His vertlical is average at best". In the article the writer said has vertical was 33 while the leave average was 35.8. When you're 6" 7" you don't necessarily need a huge vertical.

I agree that the Packers should consider moving him to TE if he makes the PS. TE does take even longer to learn than WR if he's going to pass block though.

Packer Fan's picture

Another player with physical talent, but little experience. There is a host of them trying to make the team as a receiver. Janis, Davis, Yancey and Dupre all have the same hype. Something has got to give. Maybe let him bulk up and try tight end.

stockholder's picture

I agree 100%. My money is on Dupree.

DThomas's picture

Zachary: "The only looming difference between the two (Martellus Bennett and Clark) is that one's roster spot is all but solidified.
The other's, not so much." Yikes.

Clark's mission will be to make the PS and even at that I think the odds are stacked against him. But I wish him well.

Zachary Jacobson's picture

:)

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