Nebraska Football: Ken Clark, One of the Greatest I-Backs You Never Heard of
Nebraska football fans mourned the death of 46-year-old Ken Clark, caused by a heart attack over the weekend (according to the Lincoln Journal-Star). Clark played I-Back for Nebraska from 1985-1989, earning significant playing time in his junior and senior seasons.
Clark’s name is littered throughout the Nebraska record books. Here’s just a sample of the records Clark still holds:
- Best single-game rushing as a junior (256 yards)
- Fourth-highest single-game rushing, all-time (256 yards)
- Eighth-most 100-yard games, all-time (12)
- Sixth-most career yards rushing, all-time (3,112, averaging 6.15 yards per carry)
Clark was also involved in one of the greatest games in Nebraska history. In 1988, Oklahoma State came to Lincoln with Heisman trophy candidate Barry Sanders at running back. In a wild shootout, Clark matched Sanders carry-for-carry, gaining 256 yards on 27 attempts compared to 189 yards on 35 carries for Sanders.
But Clark could grind it out, too. At the end of the 1988 season, Nebraska ended the year in Norman against the Sooners. In the freezing rain, on the hard Oklahoma turf, Clark pounded out 167 rushing yards against the ninth-ranked Sooners in Nebraska’s hard-fought 7-3 victory.
Clark’s coaches certainly thought highly of him. In the Lincoln Journal-Star, Steve Sipple quoted Frank Solich, Clark’s running backs coach at the time, as saying "I don't really know how other people regarded Ken, but I know he was appreciated by us as coaches, and by his teammates. I saw him as a special running back. To me, he's clearly in that elite category."
In the same article, Clark’s head coach Tom Osborne said he regretted that the 1988 game against Oklahoma State wasn’t televised.
“It would've been something kind of memorable for a lot of people, probably because of Barry Sanders, but partly because of the way we played, and also the way Ken played," Osborne said.
In some ways, though, the Oklahoma State game not being on television sort of epitomizes Clark’s career at Nebraska—very productive, but quiet, unassuming, and never getting the recognition it deserves. I mean, one dope didn’t even include Clark in his list of the 50 greatest or the five most under-appreciated Nebraska players in history.
It has become cliché that many of the best people in the world aren’t really recognized until they’ve left us, because they are too busy going about their work to draw attention to themselves. By all accounts, Clark was one of those people, and at least one person has had his eyes opened to Clark’s accomplishments at Nebraska after his passing.
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