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Plant's Clark gladly carries twice the load

Austin Clark plays on both sides of the ball for the Panthers, but he says he’s “better on defense. I like to get after it.” The 6-foot, 260-pound senior also starts at right tackle.

MIKE CARLSON | Special to the Times

Austin Clark plays on both sides of the ball for the Panthers, but he says he’s “better on defense. I like to get after it.” The 6-foot, 260-pound senior also starts at right tackle.

TAMPA — After football games on Friday nights, Austin Clark usually can be found in a booth with friends at the Village Inn on North Dale Mabry Highway. His order is always the same.

A giant hamburger.

"I get the one with five different types of cheese on it," Clark said.

At that point in the day, eating healthy isn't a concern. Refueling is.

As Plant's only two-way starter, Clark rarely — if ever — leaves the field, which is just the way he likes it.

"I want to be out there as much as I can," Clark said.

Plant, which will play for the Class 4A state title Saturday at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando against Tallahassee Lincoln, has many key players. But few are as valuable as Clark, a 6-foot, 260-pound senior who starts at right offensive tackle, left defensive end and on each of the Panthers' special teams.

And he doesn't just occupy space.

"He's a terror," coach Robert Weiner said.

Out of uniform, Clark is anything but that. He's as laid-back as they come, as evidenced by his typical attire, which consists of shorts, a T-shirt, socks and Crocs. But once Clark steps onto the field, "it's like he's a different man," Weiner said.

Clark isn't just full-go during games; he's that way at practice, much to the chagrin of his teammates, he said. Taking a play off — literally or mentally — is not an option.

"He's crazy," center Frank Nicholas said.

Clark has been effective on both sides of the ball.

As a defender, he's a powerful, quick and tenacious end, who has 11 sacks and leads the team's defensive linemen with 99 tackles. With the offense, he's a first-year starter who has used his aggressive style to develop into a reliable blocker.

"I think I'm better on defense," Clark said. "I like to get after it. On offense, I play with the same intensity. I'm not the best player technically, but I think I get the job done."

Two-way starters are not uncommon in high school. They are, however, at Plant because the Panthers aren't short on talent, or depth. But Clark, who started only on defense last season, wanted to give it a try. After consulting with his staff to see if Clark could handle the load physically, Weiner gave him the go-ahead.

He hasn't regretted the decision.

"He gives you everything he's got on every play," Weiner said. "He plays 100 snaps a game. And at the level he plays at, that's pretty impressive. I've never as a coach had a kid whose motor runs like his."

During games, Clark is relentless. Afterward, he crashes.

"I'm spent," Clark said. "As soon as the game is over, I get some ice."

Then he goes to get his burger.

FAST FACTS

State finals

All games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Admission is $10 per session.

Class 4A: Plant vs. Tallahassee Lincoln, 1 p.m. Saturday. TV: Sun Sports

On the Web: A trio of Plant players take over Friday Night Rewind for a day. Check it out at highschool.tampabay.com.

Stay current: If you can't make it to Orlando on Saturday, we'll have live updates from the game at blogs.tampabay.com/preps/

Plant's Clark gladly carries twice the load 12/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 19, 2008 9:32am]
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