Anthony "Ace" Clark: Western Carolina Football, 2015 NFL Draft Prospect
As a collegiate athlete, pursuing God wholeheartedly can sometimes be a struggle as selfish desires seem to get the best of you, but somehow God's love strategically seems to bring His children back home. Read Ace's story to see how God's unconditional love transformed his life & passion for the game of football !
Q. Give us a little background about yourself and how you began playing football.
I began playing football when I was 6 years old for the South Germantown Panthers. I played for the minor level with the youngest league called the "Ankle Bitters." My father, Wayne Clark, was the first African American athlete to get a scholarship out of his high school. He went on to play football at Jacksonville State University, and there he met my mother who was studying on a track scholarship. I always wished to follow in my dad's footsteps because he was my hero growing up. So naturally, I got into football, basketball, and baseball -- all sports he also played in his youth.
Q. Due to the lack of offers coming out of high school, how did you manage to keep the faith?
Coming out of high school, I didn't have offers from schools to play at the collegiate level. I saw myself as a pretty good football player in high school and was a little discouraged when I didn't get much love from college teams. Three weeks before signing day, I only had one full offer from a small Division II school and preferred walk-on and quarter scholarships from some Division I AA schools.
My dad was proactive and took it into his own hands by getting in touch with an old friend of his. That action got my film to the coaches at Western Carolina in North Carolina who loved me and offered me a full D1AA four year scholarship to play football. At the time, it seemed to come out of nowhere and I considered myself a lucky man, but I soon realized it was all in God's plans for me and I was blessed.
Q. When did you realize that you had the potential to play at the next level?
Growing up, I was always the smallest and the least athletic out of my friends. I struggled with basketball, was too slow for football, and was the boniest thing on the field or court. I never let that stop me, though. Every year I worked to get better and each year I was. Football became my favorite sport so I focused most of my energy on it. I stopped playing baseball my sophomore year to run track in hopes of gaining speed for football. I always wanted to be a great football player like my father. My junior year I was moved from the defensive end position to safety -- and I took off. I always knew I could play at the next level; I just had to put in the work to get there, so that's what I did.
Q. Describe your college experience and your influences both on and of the field.
My college career started off a little crazy. It was the first time I was completely out of my parents' supervision and was free to make my own decisions. Being Red-shirted as a freshman, I jumped right into the party lifestyle and my directions as a football player and Christian opposed one another. I was born and raised in the church and went to church every Sunday. My freshman year I might have gone to church twice because of free food. I was living life for myself and enjoying college while not worrying what God thought about my actions. In doing this, I forgot that he was the reason I was in college in the first place.
By the end of my sophomore year I fell into a very dark place. I had been lied to and hurt, I acted outside of my character, and I surrounded myself with all the wrong people. I had so much hate in my heart and it was affecting me as an athlete and as a Man of God. Anyone that knew me in that season would never guess that I thought myself to be a Christian. I didn't know what to do. One day after practice, two of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) leaders came up to me and told me about FCA and how they wanted to get it started with my team. At the end of the conversation they invited me to church, and that same day, I sat in the second row listening to a sermon about forgiveness. The whole service felt like the pastor was speaking directly to me. That day marked the transformation of my walk in Christ -- I was pointed in the right direction.
When I learned to forgive, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Through FCA I was learning more and more about The Lord and realized I had lost sight of my purpose: glorifying God through my talents, my sport. I started to praise him for all the things he has blessed me with and poured into my teammates. I became a member of the leadership team for FCA and grew tremendously in my walk with The Lord by my senior year. I decided to get baptized again because, although I took the initial steps years ago, I felt I was too young to make the necessary changes to pursue the cross. Through FCA and becoming closer to God I was made a better athlete and man. God has always been with me and is still blessing me till this day.
Q.How does your faith correlate to how you performed on the field?
I take my faith on the field with me. It starts with preparation that come from daily devotions and prayers before the game. I always felt that I got my strength to play the game from God and it was God who protected me through it. He was always in the mix when I was on the field. I wore a braclet of scripture on my wrist to remind me of why I play the game.
"| Romans 1:16 | Unashamed Athletes"
Q. In the midst of pursuing a NFL career, what is your motivation?
In the midst of pursing a NFL career, my motivation comes from my Faith, my family, and the love of the game. I want to make it there for my family and repay them for all of their support over the years, but also to glorify God in the sport. God has a plan for me. I'm just trying to do my best to follow it and give Him all the glory.