Tim Clark works the crowd at Lafayette’s Colt World Series in August, making sure the patrons have a good enough time to want to come back year after year.
His recruiting trip to Purdue happened 28 years ago, but Tim Clark, BS ’85, remembers it as if he’s still in the middle of it. Purdue assistant football coach Randy Hart walked Clark and his father, Tom, down the concrete ramp and onto the Ross-Ade Stadium turf, greener and more lush than Tim had dreamed it would be.
The Clarks had traveled from Ligonier, Pa., just east of Pittsburgh, to tour Purdue, meet the coaches and get a feel for the university’s football program. As a senior at Ligonier Valley High School in western Pennsylvania, Clark had kicked a 57-yard field goal. That had certainly raised a few eyebrows among recruiters. But his beloved Penn State didn’t need a new kicker. Coach Joe Paterno himself said that to Clark. So when Purdue showed an interest, Clark, naturally, got excited.
Purdue was trying to tap into the fertile western Pennsylvania recruiting market. Indeed, Clark’s recruiting class at Purdue would include no less than five Pennsylvanians.
Clark had thought Purdue would be a pretty cool place to be. What’s not to like about the Big Ten, where big schools play big games? Plus, Purdue was coming off its first 10-win season in 1979 and had been to consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history with wins in the Peach Bowl (1978) and Bluebonnet Bowl (1979).
“And Purdue had a great agriculture school, too,” says Clark, who majored in general agriculture.
Coach Hart walked the Clarks out to the 10-yard line, so Tim could visualize making a kick for the Boilermakers. He pointed out the two, 50-foot posts behind the goalpost.
“Yeah, we had some engineers do studies of where extra points and field goals land in the bleachers,” Hart said, trying to impress the Clark boys.
The posts and the net stretched in between were designed to keep the expensive balls from leaving the field of play and to keep fans in those bleachers from fighting over what would be a very expensive souvenir. Tom Clark took one look at the posts and declared, “They’re too low.”
His son was both proud and slightly embarrassed at his father’s declaration. At some significant expense to the athletic department, studies had been conducted, research had been performed, and all the data had been analyzed. And Hart was sure the net would, by golly, be harder to get over than your first love.
With some degree of indignation, Hart replied, “What do you mean, too low? No way they’re too low.”
But Tom had spent a significant amount of time on one knee, holding the football while his middle child learned to kick, helping him become the kind of kicker a school such as Purdue would recruit.
Despite losing a portion of his right foot in a childhood accident, Clark became Purdue’s fifth-leading field goal kicker. “It doesn’t matter what happens in your life,” Clark says, “you need to overcome it and become a better person.”
Kicking would be Tim’s ticket out of western Pennsylvania, his ticket to college. And Tom helped punch that ticket through countless practice sessions with his son. He knew the thunder his son’s foot could produce. And if he knew one thing, it was that the net and those posts were too darn low.
“Tim will kick it right over the top of the net,” the elder Clark boasted. But Hart wouldn’t back down. A wager was made. Hart promised the senior Clark a Purdue game ball if Tim’s kicks cleared the net. Clark promised Hart a case of beer if the net blocked his son’s kicks.
“Right before my first game, in 1981, coach Hart came up to me and said, ‘You better not kick it over the net.’ I thought that was a little weird,” Clark recalls, “kind of like telling Tiger Woods not to hit it so far.” To Hart’s chagrin, Clark cleared the net on all five of his extra-point kicks against Illinois that day.
Almost three decades later, on a hot August afternoon, Tim Clark is once again on a recruiting trip down the ramp and onto the field at Ross-Ade Stadium. The turf still looks perfect, like a flawless emerald.