*** This story was originally pushed in the July 2010 issue of Big Red Report ***
Ken Clark was the quietest 1,000 yard rusher in Nebraska football history. As a junior in 1988, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Clark rushed for 1,497 yards, which at that time was the third-best single-season rushing total in team history. Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier compiled the top two totals in 1982 and 1983.
Clark ranked second in the Big Eight and fifth in the nation, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and nearly 125 yards per game. He was named first-team All-Big 8 alongside Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders by AP, but UPI and the Big Eight Coaches placed Clark on its second team.
“Ken didn’t get the recognition he deserved. He probably had as quiet a 1,500 yards as you’re going to see,” NU running backs coach Frank Solich said after Clark’s junior season.
Clark was one of the first in a steady pipeline of Omaha high school running backs who went on to star at the University of Nebraska.
“There really wasn’t much of a tradition of running backs coming from Omaha prior to the mid-‘80s and early ‘90s,” said Clark. “I think Keith was probably the first one, and then after that it got rolling.
“It is a very proud tradition to not be only part of the I-back tradition at Nebraska but coming from Omaha and being part of that. I-back was the featured position at the time, and to get an opportunity to do that, you can’t put into words what it means to you.”
Clark played at Omaha Bryan High School, which wasn’t a football power like Central.
“I could have gone to another high school that had more of a high-profile football program, but you would have to find your own transportation,” said Clark. “So my options were Bryan and Omaha South. I didn’t know which school I wanted to go to, so during two-a-day practices, I practiced with South in the morning and Bryan in the afternoon. South ran the wishbone offense and Bryan ran the I-formation. The wishbone didn’t highlight my strengths and Bryan ran an offense similar to Nebraska’s, featuring the I-back mostly.”
When this story was written, Clark had heard that he was still the only Omaha Bryan athlete ever to get a full-ride scholarship from a Division I school.
“It was a huge challenge coming from Bryan. There wasn’t much there in terms of a football program. I was just able to shine against some of the top teams at the time like Omaha Central. Basically, it’s not where you play, but how you play. Even if your team is not that great, that is even more opportunity to shine, because you are going to get more touches and make more plays.
“I didn’t get the notoriety that some of the (Omaha) Central players got, but I took advantage of my opportunities. It was a self-created rivalry by me against the Omaha Central players. I took it as a huge challenge to do well against them, and I always did by rushing for over 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Actually Coach Osborne and Coach Solich noticed me when we played Central. They didn’t know anything about me until that game, and a week later I got a letter from Nebraska.”
But with Nebraska having its all-world competition I-back, Clark was encouraged by friends and family to play elsewhere.
“A lot of folks in my community were telling me not to go to Nebraska because they thought I would never play there. [But] being an I-back in high school, that is what you want to see and be a part of. I couldn’t have gone anywhere that would have highlighted my strengths as much as Nebraska did.
“Being from Omaha you wonder how you are going to measure up against the guys from out of state like California. I was like 13th on the depth chart when I first arrived at Nebraska. It was frightening and frustrating to be in that situation.”
Clark bided his time in 1986 and ‘87 behind Keith Jones, the starting I-back.
Then after his breakout year in 1988, Clark was promoted for the Heisman Trophy in his final season in 1989. But due to several factors (including injuries), Clark fell short of bettering his junior season. His totals were solid, as he rushed for close to 1,200 yards (6.0 avg) with 12 touchdowns, and he did make all three All-Big Eight first teams and was named a third-team All-American by Football News.
“I had a physical style of running,” Clark said. I was not going to outrun a whole lot of guys. I wasn’t the slowest back, but I certainly wasn’t a back that was going to take it the distance. I had great balance and vision and did most of my work at the point of attack with my cuts and quickness.”
Clark still holds the junior single-game rushing record (fourth best overall in NU history) with 256 yards against Oklahoma State in 1988. He is No. 7 on the Nebraska career rushing chart with 3,037 yards and is No. 5 on the single-season rushing list (1,497).
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.