Wesley Clark isn’t used to being in the open.
So, when he took the handoff last week and burst past the line of scrimmage into the secondary, he seemed to be in uncharted territory.
Clark had a trio of defenders to his left, and only one player realistically stood between him and the longest touchdown run of his career.
But West Forsyth’s senior running back briefly hesitated before cutting back inside, allowing the Lambert defender to wrestle him to the ground for a 26-yard gain – still good for the longest run of his career.
“I asked him about it and he’s like, ‘I didn’t know what to do.’ He got in the open and didn’t know what to do,” West Forsyth head coach Shawn Cahill said with a laugh. “He’s not that kid. He’s the kid who goes four yards and a cloud of dust. That’s just what he is: He’s a good, tough kid. So, it’s been great to see him come back, because he worked so hard to get back.”
Around this time last year, Clark wasn’t sure he’d ever get a chance at runs like that.
It was the middle of Clark’s junior year, and he had just torn his ACL. Tasked with an arduous rehabilitation schedule, Clark didn’t know whether he’d recover in time to play his senior season.
“Long. Really long,” Clark said, describing his rehab. “It was probably a good six months of two times a week trying to get back, and then it was all about just my work ethic and trying to get back after that. It was up to myself at that point to just work to get back. I’m happy I did what I did, because now I’m here.”
Clark said he wasn’t alone in the rehabilitation process, though, as teammate Koby Haynes tore his ACL around the same time as Clark.
“I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to play this year,” Clark said. “Religiously, God helped me get back here to be here for the first game this year, and it’s all worked out from there.”
Cahill knew Clark could be a big part of West’s offense this year, and he kept tabs on Clark and stayed in touch with his doctor, who told the Wolverines’ head coach when Clark could start running.
Clark was cleared in August, just days before West’s opener against Camden County.
Cahill eased his senior battering ram back into the offense, giving Clark eight carries in both the opener and against Peachtree Ridge.
Cahill describes that tactic as part of an overarching strategy, where he limits his players to around 50 plays during the first half of the season before letting them loose in region play.
“It was heartbreaking getting that surgery,” Clark said. “It changes not just your football life, but your whole life. It just changes your social life. You’re pretty much wearing a big brace down to your ankle for two months, and it just changes everything. It sucks seeing your brothers out there working every day and you’re just standing there. It was tough in the spring standing on the sideline. But I finally got here.”
Nearly a year after that surgery, Clark is thriving.
He’s found a place in West’s backfield, where he’s carried the ball 51 times for 234 yards and five touchdowns.
His past two games have been his most productive, as he rushed for 56 yards and two touchdowns against Forsyth Central, then topped that last week with 86 yards and two more scores against Lambert.
Most importantly, West won both of those games.
“I think it’s just we’re finally figuring stuff out,” Clark said. “It’s a process to get to region play, so the fact that we found our momentum and have our equilibrium between passing and running now — I think our coaches have figured out the perfect balance and the right play-calling.”
West (3-4, 2-1 Region 5-7A) is hunting for a home playoff game, and the Wolverines can climb as high as second in the region with games against North Forsyth and South Forsyth to close the regular season.
Junior Drew Southern is leading the offense at quarterback, while Daba Fofana leads the Wolverines in rushing, tallying 367 yards and three touchdowns on 93 carries.
“We have the best of both worlds,” Clark said of Fofana. “He’s faster and he’s got the shiftiness, and I’m just downhill running. We’ve got the perfect balance back there, and we’re good friends now and everything, so it’s all worked out in the backfield.”
But no matter how the season ends, Clark is thankful to be back after nearly losing his high school career to injury.
And it’s those spring practices he watched from the sideline that make him enjoy the season even more.
“Not being able to do anything is heartbreaking more than anything, and it’s really disappointing to watch everything,” Clark said. “I never thought I was going to tear my ACL. I always thought, ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen.’ It happens, and it just changes everything. But I’m just happy to be back.”