NCF Nation: Chris Snook
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The final installment of West Virginia's Saturday scrimmage gave the offense the ball at the defense's 10-yard line. And the defense knew what was coming.
The Mountaineers repeatedly handed the ball to Ryan Clarke and let him pound into the pile. The redshirt freshman scored three touchdowns, carrying tacklers in from the 5-yard line on one of those scores.
Anyone watching that couldn't help but wonder: Where was this guy last year when West Virginia struggled to convert so many crucial short-yardage situations?
The answer: Clarke was holding onto his college career by his fingernails.
He was recruited to give the team a big back, but not as big as he showed up to campus last summer. The 6-foot Clarke weighed about 260 pounds -- or 30 pounds more than he was supposed to be.
That was bad. Even worse, Clarke didn't take care of his academics during his first semester of college.
"I was going out and partying too much," he said, "not focusing on the right things."
He spent much of last season riding an elliptical bike during practice and watching from the sideline during the game. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers spent all season trying to find someone who could convert third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations. Their inability to do so probably cost them at least two wins.
Toward the end of the season, Clarke decided to change his ways.
"I started realizing everything I was missing out on," he said. "I wasn't playing, and grades were coming out and it wasn't looking too good. I had to make a turnaround."
He went to work on slimming down, cutting out fast foods and all bread. He ate mostly meats and vegetables during five small meals per day.
"It was different," he said. "I feel like if you want to eat healthy, you can't have taste buds. A lot of that stuff was nasty. But I wanted to make the weight, so I had to do it."
He's now down around 230 pounds and says he feels lighter and much faster. Though listed as a fullback, he's not just a blocker. He can provide a power running complement to West Virginia's diminutive speedsters Noel Devine, Mark Rodgers and Jock Sanders.
"I'll tell you what, when he runs the ball somebody is going to get hurt," head coach Bill Stewart said. "It might be him who gets hurt, but somebody's going to get hurt."