BERKELEY, Calif. — As a child, Austin Clark made a promise to his late grandpa Bob that he would play major college football one day.
He’s now living his dream.
Clark, a recent graduate of West Valley High School in Cottonwood, California, played on every kickoff Saturday and recorded a tackle while playing defense in the final minutes of Sacramento State’s 55-14 loss to California at Memorial Stadium.
“I remember sitting on my grandpa’s couch and he said, ‘Hey, someday I’m going to watch you on this TV,’ and I said, ‘I sure hope so,’ ” Clark said. “Today was that day and it was a great experience.”
When Clark walked out of the west tunnel and climbed the small flight of stairs for warm-ups, he wasn’t a wide-eyed kid about to play the biggest game of his life.
— Austin Clark
Instead, he looked even-keeled, high-fived coaches and stretched alongside teammates.
“You dream about going out on the field in a Pac-12 stadium your whole life,” Clark said. “It’s unbelievable, especially from a town like Cottonwood where you’re playing a hometown favorite.
Clark was one of the best football players in Northern Section history and owns every school rushing record at West Valley. But playing as a true freshman against a Pac-12 team was a whole new experience.
“It’s big, it’s fast, it’s strong, it’s competitive it’s athletic and everyone here has a will to win; no one is slacking off,” Clark said. “They’re the best of the best where they came from. It’s a completely different speed change from Northern Section but a good time.
At West Valley, Clark played in a few marquee games when it comes to North Section standards. The 2012 championship against Sutter, the monster matchup against Enterprise last fall and November’s section championship game against Central Valley each drew upward of 3,000 fans.
Cal’s student section alone trumped that, and Cottonwood’s population, for that matter.
“It’s wild, the sound is so loud, the band, the crowd cheering — it’s an unreal experience,” Clark said. “When I was on the opening kickoff, I could feel the ground shaking underneath me.”
Clark had familiar faces in the stands as his high school coaches Greg Grandell and Jim Vert, fresh off a recent victory on Friday night, were on the road at 7 a.m. to make the trip. His parents and a few other close friends tagged along for the ride — all of them there to support the hometown boy’s success come to fruition.
“He’s such a special person and an incredible young man,” Vert said. “It’s incredible to watch him run around out there.”
He made the most of his national television debut, playing four snaps on defense with one solo tackle and assisting on another.
But when it was over, he thought about his friends, his hometown, the people that helped him along his journey and his desire to please his grandfather.
“You want to be on the winning end of it but it’s a cool experience; one of those whether you win or lose you have to hold on to, you have to cherish and you got to be thankful for at the end of the day because we were very blessed to take the field today.”
• College football tickets