FOR CLARK, ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT GETTING BETTER’
AS A UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI FOOTBALL FAN, HOLLYWOOD Chaminade defensive tackle Khairi Clark ( 6-4, 315) naturally looked up to one of the school’s all-time bests who played his ame position: Hall of Fame-bound Warren Sapp.
Clark, already two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Sapp was
when he played in the pros, always hoped he might meet his idol one day.
That day came this past March at a Nike football camp where Sapp was
volunteering as a coach. Instead of being awestruck or asking for Sapp’s
autograph, Clark played it cool.
“I was just satisfied that he was able to teach me some moves and talk
to me and tell me motivational things on how to get to the next level,”
Clark said. “For me, it’s always about getting better.”
A three-year starter for new Chaminade coach and former defensive co-
ordinator Marcelo Rodriguez, Clark has been preparing for double duty as
a senior, going for early morning runs on his own at the beach to increase
his stamina. This season he’ll start both ways for the Lions, who lost a
number of key players to transfers and will rely on Clark to pave the way
for their running backs while stopping the other team’s runners.
“He knows it’s his year and his team to take far into the playoffs,” Ro-
driguez said. “We’re definitely going to be asking a lot of him, helping out
on both sides of the ball. He’s too good just to keep him on one side of the
ball. We kind of introduced [offense] to him last year. This year it will be
much more steady for him.”
Clark, whose mother is a Miami Beach police officer and a former
basketball player at FIU, has college scholarship offers from all over the
country. Rodriguez, who coached former Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Bea-
son at Chaminade, said he’s never had a player draw so much attention.
Clark maintains he has a college top six of Miami, Florida, Notre Dame,
Georgia, Clemson and Nebraska.
But college isn’t on his mind right now. It’s all about getting better. He
recently bench pressed 225 pounds (the NFL combine testing standard)
20 times and maxed out at 415 pounds. He squats 500 pounds and
power cleans 265 pounds.
“I really want to get better with my hands, being low when I fire off the
ball and also my energy during the game,” the U.S. Army All-American
selection said. “It’s all about getting better.” – Manny Navarro
D’Ernest Johnson, J.C. Jackson
BITTER DEFEAT MOTIVATES IMMOKALEE PLAYERS
THE SIGN GREETS D’ERNEST JOHNSON AND J.C. JACKSON every day when they enter the Immokalee High School weight room: “Godby 21, Immokalee 20.” It serves as a constant re- minder of a job the Indians left unfinished in 2012, and one
they plan on completing in 2013. Neither Johnson nor Jackson need
the visual aide to recall the biggest disappointment of their high school
football careers, the December afternoon Immokalee let a state championship slip through its fingers.
“Losing by one point, I think about that game every day,” Johnson said.
“It was a heartbreaker,” Jackson added. “I’m still not over how it ended.”
The Class 5A title tilt was a perfect summary of who the Indians were
last season: An immensely talented but mistake-prone collection of individuals that struggled with internal strife.
Despite committing 15 penalties and four turnovers
against Godby, Immokalee drove 82 yards in the final
1:08, scoring as time expired. But a poor snap on
the tying extra-point attempt sent the Indians to
a devastating defeat. To avenge that crippling
setback, Immokalee will need standout seasons from Johnson and Jackson, who will lead
the team on each side of the ball.
The 5-10, 190-pound Johnson, one of the
state’s top running back prospects, rushed for
1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior last
season. With the Indians’ graduation losses, Johnson will carry a greater amount of the scoring load on
his shoulders, a responsibility he’s eager to assume.
“The running game, that’s our strength this
year,” Johnson said.
More importantly, Johnson said none of last
season’s infighting will carry over to this fall.
“I’m not letting none of that happen,” he said.
“This year we’re all going to come together as
Jackson, one of the team’s top wide receivers in 2012 and a Florida
State commit, is shifting to defensive back. The 5-10, 175-pounder said
facing Immokalee alum Mackensie Alexander, one of the nation’s top
overall recruits last season who eventually signed with Clemson, prepared
him for his new position.
“I’m a competitor; I like to go against the best,”
Jackson said. “I got so good at corner from going
up against Mackensie every day in practice.”
Both players said there’s plenty of external
pressure on Immokalee to get back to the state
championship game and this time, win it in
2013. But that’s part of the deal when
a player puts on the Indians’ jersey.
“I think we’ll be man enough to
stand up and handle it like we’re
supposed to,” Jackson said. “This
is Immokalee football; that’s all
we know. We work hard, we compete and we’re never scared of
nothing.” – Dan Deluca