COLUMBIA — It’s been six years since Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s nephew, Adam Gristick, sent his uncle game film and asked him to check out the quarterback on his Pennsylvania high school football team.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Only, it wasn’t the quarterback for that 2007 Parkland squad from Allentown who stood out most when Steckel pressed play.
“I kept saying, ‘Who’s 14? Who’s 14?’” Steckel recalled Monday.
The quarterback, John Laub, wound up at Richmond, but wide receiver Jaleel Clark — No. 14, and still a junior at the time — became a Tiger thanks to Steckel’s persistence.
“We’re from the same area and when he was looking at me, he was there every day and he kept calling me,” Clark said. “He took it to a whole next level trying to get me down here.”
Of course, Clark’s transition into the college game wasn’t seamless.
After a redshirt season in 2009, Clark worked his way onto the kickoff coverage unit, but that’s as far as he advanced during the next three years.
As a junior last season, Clark made one catch — a 6-yard reception against Vanderbilt — which stood as his only offensive contribution in three seasons before a breakout performance last week against Murray State.
Clark, who is Dorial Green-Beckham’s backup at the X receiver, made five catches for 51 yards in a 58-14 win against the Racers.
“It felt incredible and I’m glad I got to make an impact,” said Clark, a fifth-year senior.
Clark insists that he never considered leaving Missouri, that he was comfortable biding his time until an opportunity came.
“That last couple years I did wish to play more, but I still love it here and just playing special teams has been great for me,” Clark said. “…I talked to a couple coaches and they just assured me that things would play out. That (leaving Missouri) never crossed my mind really.”
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel appreciates the fact Clark stuck it out and was thrilled to see him with important minutes and catches in his final college season.
“Here’s a guy who never complains, never moans and groans, ‘I should be playing more’ or anything,” Pinkel said. “He’s a company man, but he always works hard. Here he is a senior and a guy who comes in and, not only comes in and makes a couple catches, but made some significant catches and some difficult catches, tough catches. I’m really happy for him.”
“When people work hard, you like for them to reap the rewards and it doesn’t always happen,” wide receivers coach Pat Washington said. “But he got the opportunity and made it happen. Who knows what’s going to happen from here on out, but at the same time he had the chance to help the football team this past week and hopefully will continue to do it throughout the season.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.