There are days when John Clark still can’t straighten his left leg. Actually, most days are like that for Washington’s fifth-year senior defensive lineman.
In April 2017, Clark, a walk-on out of Marysville Getchell High School, ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral and the meniscus in his left knee — a devastating triple whammy — during the Huskies’ first padded practice of spring ball.
He had one initial surgery and then another in September 2017 when swelling in his knee persisted.
Recovering and rehabilitation, he said, was “a long haul.” And at practice Wednesday, he was still wearing a large brace over his knee, and he still has issues with swelling and stiffness in his knee.
“It hurts every day,” he said. “But it used to be a lot worse.”
He has a positive outlook entering his final season at UW. No, he wouldn’t want to relive in the injury, but he believes going through the rigors of his rehab — and the ups and downs along the way — helped him in the long run.
“I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about football too,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad it happened.”
Before the injury, football consumed Clark. He’s always been a good student, he said, but didn’t have the confidence to put himself out there in other social situations.
“I was doing well on the field, but I wasn’t very happy outside of it,” he said. “I wasn’t connecting with people. I wasn’t very social. It was just all football.”
He recently purchased a motorcycle, with money saved up from a part-time job at Brooks Biddle Automotive in Bothell, where he washes cars and does odds-and-ends jobs around the lot.
He enjoys snowmobiling with friends, and he’s thinking about buying a dirtbike this summer. He’s putting himself out there more.
“Getting hurt, I had to find out what I wanted to do without football,” he said. “I became more social and more outspoken, and I’m doing more things I probably wouldn’t have done or wouldn’t have wanted to experience.”
Finally healthy, Clark earned a spot in the Huskies’ defensive-line rotation last fall. He didn’t play a lot — he had five total tackles in 2018 — but he got to play in the Pac-12 championship game and the Rose Bowl.
He could be a bigger factor in the rotation going forward.
On Wednesday, while working with the No. 1 defense, Clark shot through a gap and hit running back Salvon Ahmed for a touch tackle and a 5-yard loss. It’s the type of play he hopes to make more of for UW’s a new-look defensive line this fall.
Greg Gaines, Shane Bowman and Jaylen Johnson, all regulars on the line the past few years, have graduated.
“It’s weird walking in the room and not seeing them,” Clark said.
Clark is now the elder statesman in the defensive-line room, with Levi Onwuzurike, Benning Potoa’e and Josiah Bronson the other veterans returning. They’re tasked with introducing a big crop of freshmen — emphasis on big — to the nuances of the position.
“I definitely feel old in the room now,” Clark said.
And, yes, a bit wiser too.