Sam Clark made a name for himself early in his football career by winning Punt, Pass & Kick competitions made up of Ozark and Nixa youngsters when he was 10 and 11 years old.
But his PP&K wins haven’t exactly proven to be a sign of things to come.
For one, he was never serious about becoming a quarterback.
“I've always been able to throw,” Clark said “But I hurt my shoulder playing basketball and it went downhill from there.”
Clark became Ozark’s starting kicker and punter as a sophomore last season and was good enough to hold onto those jobs, booting credible punts and kickoffs.
“Punting came naturally to me,” Clark said. “My punting was what really helped me (in the PP&K contests). I could punt, but couldn't really kick.”
Halfway through his Tigers career, Clark’s niche has turned out to be nothing related to PP&K at all. He's best known for his defense at cornerback. He gained a starting job in Ozark’s secondary last season and topped the team with three interceptions and four passes broken up, to go along with 17 tackles.
Clark turned in one of Ozark’s top highlights of the season by outjumping Nixa wide receiver Kael Combs to pick off a pass in the Eagles end zone during the teams’ District meeting.
“(That play) motivates me. I want that to happen again this year,” Clark said. “Even if someone is taller than me, I know I can outjump them. I don't have any hesitation about that. Not many people in the COC can outjump me.”
New Ozark coach Jeremy Cordell is aware of Clark’s interception against Nixa, having watched film from the game.
Cordell has also seen enough of Clark in summer camp and pre-season practices to be intrigued by his potential.
“Sam is a playmaker. He's very valuable to us,” Cordell said “He's got a good skill-set. We’re waiting for him to take his game to the next level. He’s got to continue to work on his technical skills and grow those every day. Once he does that, he can be a dangerous player.”
Clark also is a standout sprinter during track season. Last spring, he got to know the COC’s consensus top defensive back, Nixa senior safety Spencer Ward, as they both competed in the 400.
“I motivated him and he motivated me,” Clark said. “He goes to Nixa and I go to Ozark, so it's not like we're best friends on the field. We're rivals. But I still talk to him.”
Clark and safety Peyton Bullinger headline Ozark’s youthful secondary. The third member of the Tigers’ defensive backfield is expected to come from a group that includes senior Dawson Meredith and juniors Marco Cardenas, Sterling Stine and Marcus Heavin.
With Clark having the most experience of the DBs, he’s looked upon as a leader.
“Defensviely, we all take control of our own groups,” Clark said. “Ruben (Arvizu) is the leader of the D-line. Parker (Elliott) is the leader of the whole defense, as he should be at middle linebacker. I help my guys at DB. I wouldn't consider myself as someone who will tell them what to do. But if they're doing something I can help them with, I'll help them.”
As for his once-heralded punting and kicking, Clark will again take on those duties, but considers them his secondary assignments.
“I haven't (placed) as much emphasis on punting and kicking this year as I did last year. I still come out here on Sundays and work on it, but don’t practice it as much,” Clark said. “I’m going to (punt and kick) because they need me to, but I'm not going to be practicing it every day like I did last year. I don't see myself trying to take kicking to the next level. I think I'm coming into my role at corner.”