Ryan Clarke Getting Carries Once Again - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Ryan Clarke Getting Carries Once Again

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MORGANTOWN -

West Virginia University Senior Fullback Ryan Clarke is having a completely different spring than he did one year ago.

Clarke entered spring practice last year viewed as a ball carrier fighting for the opportunity to get those carries in the fall. He was trying to establish himself in front of a new offensive coaching staff. Perhaps he was trying to hard, or trying to do too much. What Clarke did instead was put himself straight into the doghouse.

Clarke repeatedly fumbled the ball within the first few days of spring practice. Suddenly, Clarke was not getting anymore carries.

Clarke carried the ball 140 times for 541 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two years at WVU. Last year he did not register one carry on the stat sheet.

Clarke had a choice to make. He was challenged to help the team with his blocking skills. That is what he did. He may not have carried the ball in 2011, but he did play in all 13 games.

Evidently there was a carrot at the end of the stick for Clarke. Now that hard work and dedication to doing what he was asked is being met with a reward. He is once again carrying the pigskin in practice.

"The dark horse, the guy who has been stepping up and taking some pressure off us is Ryan Clarke," Running Backs Coach Robert Gillespie said.

Gillespie is trying to establish a rotation at his position with 2011 starter Dustin Garrison still recovering from a knee injury suffered in Orange Bowl practices three months ago.

"Clarke is a kid who carried the ball a lot in the past and he proved he was a willing blocker," Gillespie said. "He bought into his role, so this spring we have been able to say that this kid has worked hard, done what we asked him to do and now we are going to let him carry the ball a little bit and he is doing a fantastic job."

When Clarke held onto the ball, he was really effective around the goal line. That is how he scored 16 touchdowns in two seasons. Sure, he had his moments, coughing up the ball as he was going into the endzone at Connecticut in overtime two years ago.

Dana Holgorsen likes to run a three-back set. When Clarke was on the field in that set last season, he was never viewed as a threat to carry the ball. Continued success this spring carrying the ball could change that and give WVU another short-yardage threat.

"It was tough in the beginning," Gillespie said about Clarke's spring last year. "But I think he really bought into it, has had a great attitude throughout the whole year, and this spring, the situation came up that we need him to carry the ball. So far, he's doing a really good job. He's taking pride in being a ball carrier now."

He's taking pride in being a ball carrier now. That statement by Gillespie says a lot about Clarke.

When a kid carries the ball throughout high school and is recruited to play running back in college, it is easy to think that player likely takes for granted the opportunity to carry the ball and the glory that comes with it.

Clarke experienced the highs and lows as a ball carrier. Rather than let the lows define him, he stepped up and used his skills as a blocker to make sure he was still on the field.

He is back in the mix as a ball carrier in 2012 adding to what should be a great competition for carries at that position in August. Those vying for the opportunity to get their hands on the ball will include Clarke, Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie, and Shawne Alston. Perhaps one of the new freshmen will also get into that mix.

Gillespie has been looking for depth at that position and it appears he may have found it.

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