The mean Green machine
Running back quietly finding place among KU greats
From every angle, the stats speak loudly.
Yet Clark Green doesn’t. Never has, never will – and it has cost him a lot of time in the spotlight during his football career.
Go ahead. Ask him about his underappreciation, as Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino calls it.
Don’t expect a trip to the soapbox.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he says with a shrug.
He has a lunchpail demeanor, refuses to pop his collar or thump his chest, and, while cordial to outsiders, honestly doesn’t have much to say to anybody about his individual achievements.
Is such an attitude enough to make a solid running back nothing more than an afterthought?
Green might be proof of it. But he’s not about to be a different man just to get a little love.
“Talking gets you nowhere,” said Green, KU’s featured tailback. “It’s all about proving it on the field every Saturday.”
Every Saturday that Green has been the guy at KU, the senior has proved it. But as little as he cares, Green has heard all the whispers. Over the last four years, many viewed him as servicable until a real stud comes along. Some would say he’s a nice solution to fill in the blank – just use a pencil, not a pen.
Through it all, though, Green’s put up numbers better than almost any “stud” in the history of Kansas football. If his senior year is as solid as his sophomore campaign was in 2003 – the last time he was the featured back – he’ll be among KU’s top three all-time in career rushing attempts, rushing yards and all-purpose yards. He’s already the only player in school history with 2,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Nobody else has come even close.
Heck, he likely will end up fifth all-time in receptions. And he’s a tailback.
But Mangino has felt the need to speak out more than once about how “underappreciated” Green is to outsiders. He’s not a juker-and-jiver. He’d rather knock a linebacker on his butt than spin around and outrun him. He’s too quiet to do a whole lot of talking. And self-promotion makes him uncomfortable.
When asked if he was the go-to guy in the backfield this season, Green simply said, “I feel like I can be the guy. But everybody else feels that way, too.”
It seems Green’s attitude isn’t going to change as he enters his senior season. But will people’s perception of him?
Green approaching big names
Clark Green quietly has risen to eighth in Kansas history in career rushing yardage.
Here are the Jayhawks who have rushed for 2,000 yards in their careers:
Name – Career rushing yards
1. June Henley – 3,841
2. Tony Sands – 3,788
3. Laverne Smith – 3,074
4. Gale Sayers – 2,675
5. John Riggins – 2,659
6. David Winbush – 2,608
7. L.T. Levine – 2,248
8. Clark Green – 2,090
There’s something about speed and spins and seeing defenders twist their ankles that makes pundits drool when evaluating running backs.
The ability to make the opposition choke on fumes no doubt has its value. But what about the ability to touch the ball 30 times a game, take a pounding over and over and continue to get up and ask for it again?
“Clark,” Mangino said, “is what you call a steady, workhorse kind of guy.”
Green sees something good in such an approach, a style of play that gets the job done and does so without much hype. Some of KU’s other standouts – cornerback Charles Gordon, linebacker Nick Reid and defensive end Jermial Ashley, for example – are reserved and somewhat shy when peppered with questions about themselves.
“It’s about proving it on the field – that’s why we take that approach,” Green said. “No matter what the media or whoever thinks we can do.”
Don’t look now, but while the charming John Randle was breaking off an incredible run against Kansas State and racking up three 100-yard rushing games last season, it was Green who had the most productive backfield performance of the 2004 campaign. He rushed for 118 yards against Missouri last November, propelling the Jayhawks to victory and nearly sending former coach Don Fambrough – KU football’s biggest fan – to tears as he thanked Green after the game for making his day.
Fambrough always advised Green to keep moving those legs, to never give up. After being relegated to backup duties at the start of the season for multiple reasons, Green persevered when given the opportunity.
Oh yeah, and Mangino disclosed afterward that Green was banged up and hardly himself that day. It sure didn’t seem like it.
“He played on sheer toughness,” Mangino said after the game.
Green has a theory on why his health was a factor last year – his weight.
After rushing for 968 yards in 2003, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 Conference honors, Green hit the weights hard, gaining 10 pounds of muscle in time for the 2004 season.
After the first game, though, Mangino said the weight cost Green any explosiveness he might have had, and after Randle outperformed Green against Tulsa, Green’s carries dwindled dramatically.
“It wasn’t that much of a big blow,” Green says now. “It made me go back and think to get it together.”
He’s since shed the excess bulk, and notices the difference immensely.
“I’ve come in a little bit underweight, right where I wanted to play,” Green said. “I feel quicker and move quicker than what I was in the past year.
“It’s made a lot of difference,” Green added. “It’s keeping me healthy. It’s all good right now.”
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In March, Randle was dismissed from the team after repeated run-ins with the law. That made depth a concern at running back, and raised questions as to whether true freshman Angus Quigley would get a look, whether Tang Bacheyie would make a difference, whether Gary Green could survive an abundance of touches or if Jon Cornish finally was going to get his chance to be the guy.
Clark Green’s still around, though. But if he learned anything from the thousands of yards he piled up the last three years, it’s that strength can come in numbers at such a beat-up position.
Mangino’s liking the running back situation, too, after initial doubts prior to preseason camp.
“On the first day of practice, it was a concern,” Mangino said of the position. “But the running game is one of the areas that is probably improving the fastest on offense.”
Green even welcomed the idea of a running-back-by-committee approach, even if it takes away from his touches.
“I want to win,” Green said. “Whatever it takes to win.”
Steady as always
Now listed as 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Green has the same approach as always, the same quiet attitude, the same confidence that he keeps in an internal vault.
Last month, he finally released a snippet of faith in himself – if only for a sentence.
“I look at myself as a complete back,” Green said, “that can run, catch and block.”
His 2,090 career rushing yards, 1,010 career receiving yards and countless testimonials about his willingness to keep the quarterback protected are evidence.
KU will have the triple threat in the backfield for one last season starting today. But make it a point to watch him, because the flash factor won’t be drawing anybody’s eyes instinctively toward him.
“I have joked before that nobody is ever going to confuse him with Broadway Joe,” Mangino said with a chuckle. “But Clark is a hard-working, dependable guy, and if you look at the all-purpose yardage for career at KU, he has a legitimate chance to pass up some people like Gale Sayers. It’s just remarkable.”
Yet too few people have noticed, whether it’s a lack of flair or a lack of recognizing a good thing when it’s under their nose.
No matter, Green said. He’s got plenty of fire left for everyone to see.
“Ya’ll want to see it?” Green said, nodding his head. “I’m going to give it to you, then. I’m going to give it to you.”