Dallas Clark: Maybe the best story from the Ferentz era

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March 31, 2014 | 7:29 pm

Kirk Ferentz has been head coach for the Hawkeyes for 14 years now. That's a long time and that's a lot of great stories.

Bob Sanders rings out. Robert Gallery isn't bad, either. Certainly, Nate Kaeding, Colin Cole and Pat Angerer. I'm not going to go over them all (Abdul Hodge/Chad Greenway). There's no way I'd mention all the ones that have moved you (Mitch King/Matt Kroul) through the years.

I go back to Dallas Clark's story, a lot.

The 33-year-old signed what could well be his final NFL deal on Monday, linking up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here's the story (didn't call them "posts" back then and I'm not even sure this ever found its way to the internet) I wrote when Clark announced he was leaving Iowa early for the NFL draft (nine seasons with Indianapolis and had 427 career receptions for 4,887 yards, 46 touchdowns and a Super Bowl ring).

Headline: No what-ifs: Clark opts for the NFL

IOWA CITY - Dallas Clark arrived at Iowa with a broken collarbone, a murky promise of a spot as a walk-on and darned near no money.

He leaves as one of Iowa's all-time best tight ends and, if he cleans up well for NFL scouts, a wealthy young man.

Clark, everyone's all-American this season, announced Wednesday he will skip his senior season and enter April's NFL draft.

"Before I even decided, whatever decision I made it was going to be 100 percent, never looking back," Clark said. "I'm not going to live in the world of 'what ifs, what ifs.' If I get drafted in the fifth round or if I got hurt, this is my life and I'm going to live with the rewards and consequences. I feel great about this opportunity and my decision."

Iowa went 2-for-3 in Hawkeyes shunning the NFL Wednesday.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who interviewed for the Jacksonville Jaguars opening last week, dropped out of the running and received a raise, UI Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby said.

Offensive tackle Robert Gallery, who considered skipping his senior year next year, will remain a Hawkeye.

"I'm staying," Gallery said. "I'm not filing papers (to the NFL offices), and I'm not looking back. This is the right decision for me. I belong at Iowa for another year."

[Iowa has struck out on the senior O-lineman the last two times out with Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, but they made the right decisions for them and that's all that matters. Ferentz will tell you that, too.]

Clark, a junior from Livermore, is the first Iowa player to skip a year of eligiblity since tight end Jonathan Hayes passed up the 1985 season for the draft.

Clark, 23, said he'll remain on campus this semester to train but won't enroll in classes. He said he intends to finish his degree and pursue a teaching career.

Clark kept himself composed and thanked Ferentz, strength coach Chris Doyle, tight ends coach Reese Morgan, Bowlsby and his family.

"It's been a really hard decision, one of the toughest I think I'll make," Clark said. "I know that it's probably going to upset a lot of people I'm not coming back. But I thought a lot about it. This is the right thing for me. At this point in my life, I have to look out for my best interests."

Clark's story is nothing short of incredible. He began his Iowa football life in 1998 as a part-time student with a broken collarbone. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry promised Clark a chance to make the team and came through on the promise.

"We've got to put Hayden in there, because it was Hayden who gave him a chance," said Doug Clark, Dallas' dad.

Clark became a full-time student and a full-fledged team member in January '99. But two days before the season opener against Nebraska - Ferentz's first game as head coach - Clark had an emergency appendectomy.

The first two semesters in '98 were particularly difficult.

His mom, Jan, died two days before he graduated from Twin Rivers High School. With two sons finishing college, Doug Clark had a tough time helping his youngest son make ends meet.

"Maybe we didn't have the greatest stuff, but we enjoyed what we had and it worked," Doug Clark said. "But I do know that any kid in America who says he can't support college, I can testify he can."

[A timely quote, IMO.]

Dallas Clark basically lived on his own that first year.

"It was really hard," said Clark, who has some $15,000 in student loans. "I just didn't feel like a college freshman, because I had so many responsibilities.

"I was by myself, so I had to handle that. I had to grow up. I didn't get to enjoy the finer things at college. But to play even just one game at Kinnick Stadium, it was all worth it."

Before being awarded a full scholarship in fall '01, Clark played football, took classes and worked. He held a summer job with UI grounds services, which included mowing Kinnick Stadium.

[I asked this because I remember being at the complex for something and seeing Clark taking a ride in a John Deere Gator with work gloves on. Biggest whiplash juxtaposition in Iowa football history.]

"I woke up at 6 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday," said Clark, who started as an outside linebacker and made a splash on special teams before moving to tight end in spring 2001. "I mowed Kinnick Stadium and mowed the baseball stadium, both softball fields, both soccer fields. I fixed sprinkler heads. I mowed the complex. That helped me pay the bills."

[Oh yeah, he was an outside linebacker for a while at Iowa.]

He mowed Kinnick, then he owned Kinnick.

The deadline for underclassmen to file for draft eligibility was Wednesday at 5 p.m. Players then get 72-hour window to reconsider.

Clark is definitely going. Gallery is definitely staying.

Gallery, a 6-foot-7, 305-pounder, would have been a mid-round selection this year.

"I talked to a lot of NFL people and everyone said late first round or early second, but I had already made up my mind," Gallery said. "I want to be the top offensive tackle in the draft next year. I want to help this team achieve next year."

[He was to the tune of a $60 million deal. Gallery also is in the twilight of his career. He'll play with the Patriots this season.]

Clark said his age was a factor. He'll be 24 in June. Next year would have been his sixth year at Iowa.

Clark talked to NFL scouts from the Ravens, Patriots and Colts. He sees himself as a "solid second-rounder."

[Colts?]

ESPN's Mel Kiper rated Clark as the No. 3 junior tight end in the nation.

Late first-round picks get contracts in the $5 million to $7 million range with signing bonuses of about $1.5 million.

Third-rounders get contracts in the $2 million range with signing bonuses of about $700,000.

"I think Dallas is going to be a guy they can split out, use as a slot receiver, a lot like the Giants use (Jeremy) Shockey," said Marv Cook, a former all-American tight end at Iowa who had a Pro Bowl career in the NFL.

"I think he'll be great in motion, being able to get in trips and work the three-man, West Coast-style offense with another tight end. I think he'll be able to contend for a starting jobright now."

[Man, Marv nailed it.]

Career Receiving Statistics

Year No. Yds Avg. TD Long

Sophomore 38 539 14.2 4 40

Junior 43 742 17.3 4 95

Totals 81 1,281 15.8 8 95

Career Highlights

1998 - Red-shirted after joining the team as a walk-on.

1999 - Did not see any game action. Missed second half of season with an injury.

2000 - Earned coaches appreciation award for special teams play. Saw action on special teams and at linebacker in all 12 games.

2001 - Made switch to tight end, starting 10 games and playing in all 12. Earned honorable mention all-Big Ten by coaches and media. Had two TD catches against Miami (Ohio) and had seven receptions for 116 yards against Penn State.

2002 - Winner of John Mackey Award as nation's top tight end. First team all-American by Associated Press, Walter Camp Foundation, American Football Coaches Association and Football Writers Association of America. First team all-Big Ten. Big Ten offensive player of the week after Purdue game when he caught three passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns (a 95-yarder and the game-winner in the closing seconds).

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