DeKALB – Willie Clark has every reason to have a chip on his shoulder.
After an injury sidelined him late in his high school career, Clark’s college football options were limited, leaving him the choice to walk on to the Northern Illinois team. By his junior year, he was the Huskies’ leading receiver in yards, receptions and touchdowns.
“Some coaches on some of those teams, they didn’t have faith in me, they didn’t think I could do it,” Clark said. “I wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
This year, it looked as if Clark was overlooked again.
Despite leading the Huskies in receiving yards last year, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound receiver was used mostly in blocking situations early in 2011. Through eight games, Clark didn’t have a touchdown in NIU’s prolific offense.
This time he didn’t feel any frustration.
“Honestly, the fact that we were winning, that got rid of all of the frustrations,” Clark said. “Being a senior and a captain of this team, you want your team to succeed regardless of all of the accolades and what your stats are. You want your team to win.”
On Friday against Eastern Michigan, Clark was called upon to make an important catch – he did just that.
Early in the first quarter, quarterback Chandler Harnish found Clark wide open up the middle, and Clark turned and ran for a 54-yard touchdown. That play put the Huskies up 7-0, and they never trailed in an 18-12 win that clinched the Mid-American Conference’s West Division.
The touchdown was Clark’s fourth in the past four games.
“I’m definitely excited for Willie,” Harnish said. “We thought he would be that guy early on, but he fought through some injuries and he had a lot of things going on that I don’t think many people knew about. We wanted to really find a role for him.”
After catching 10 passes for 226 yards over the past month, Clark appears to be getting close to being the receiver Harnish envisioned.
According to coach Dave Doeren, Clark simply has been given more openings by defenses.
“Our offense takes what you give us,” Doeren said. “We have different reads for Chandler. [Offensive coordinator Matt] Canada’s looking from up top at the soft spots of the defense. There have been certain games that people have loaded up for other things, and that leaves the middle open for Willie.”
It’s reasonable to think that Clark would be relieved that he still is in the Huskies’ plans as a pass-catching receiver. But as long as he’s helping his team win, the level-headed senior maintains that it’s all the same to him.
“I’m just as happy now as I was eight weeks ago,” Clark said. “It does feel good, it always feels good, but the fact that we came out with a win, that’s the most important thing to me.”