Wesley notebook: Clark making up for lost year

DOVER — It didn’t matter that it ended being a misdiagnosis.

All that Gregg Clark knew in May 2018 was that a family doctor was telling him he had a potentially serious heart murmur.

It got his attention.

Gregg Clark

“It was a shock to me and my family,” said the Wesley College football player. “We don’t really have any type of heart disease or anything like that in our family history. Hearing something like that, for me, was pretty scary.”

By the time the mistake was caught, Clark had already decided to sit out last season. But the Milford High grad is back now, with a clean bill of health and a crucial position on the field.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound redshirt sophomore is now the Wolverines’ starting center, which is where he’ll line up on Saturday when No. 12 Wesley (1-0 NJAC, 4-0 overall) goes to Salisbury (1-0 NJAC, 3-0 overall) for its annual showdown with the Sea Gulls. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Clark is the anchor of an offensive line that Wolverines’ coach Chip Knapp says is starting to come into its own. Among the other starters up front are Andrew Risper (Laurel), Ty-Key Moore (Smyrna), Brandon Bradford (St. Georges) and Josh Hughes.

“We watched the Rowan game and thought that they played as well as any (Wesley) offensive line had in a couple years,” Knapp said about Wesley’s 21-20 win on Saturday. “They were driving their feet, playing hard. There weren’t any major flaws.

“They’re a talented group, too. They’re physically gifted — they can move and they can drive people off the ball.”

Clark thought he might be doing some of those kinds of things last fall before the problem came up with his heart. And even though he ended up being fine, Clark still thinks of this season as something of a comeback for him.

“It’s quite nice to be able to say I can play the sport I love to play,” he said. “And I’m good, nothing’s wrong. It takes a weight off my shoulders.

“I see now what it’s like to have something you love taken away, so I have to play with a chip on my shoulder.”

Clark only started playing center in the spring of his freshman year at Wesley. He’d always been a guard or tackle in high school.

Clark was a first-team all-Henlopen South guard as a senior at Milford.

“Freshman year during spring ball, they were like, ‘Take some reps at center,’” said Clark. “I was like, ‘OK.’ It looks like it clicked because now here I am again at center.

“I have to be a lot more cognitive when it comes to figuring out the defense. Now I’m the general of the ‘O’ line pretty much. Now I have to make sure everybody knows where they’re going, make sure everybody knows the count — keep everybody on their toes.”

For Clark, being back on the field this season is like coming home again.

While he went to home games last season and kept working out, it wasn’t the same as being a part of a group.

“I had to miss a whole season and that bond and that fight,” said Clark. “I didn’t get to be in that atmosphere. I’m coming out now with that fight.”

Local linemen

Laurel’s Risper was also a first-team All-South selection in high school. He was a tackle for the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-1, 300-pound sophomore admits he didn’t expect to start as a true freshman last fall. He started the Wolverines’ last five games.

“It was crazy coming in out of high school and starting,” said Risper. “I mean it was a different experience. The game was faster and everything was a little bit different.

Andrew Risper

“The first game I started, I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life, honestly. But, after the first hit, I was like, ‘All right, this is football, let’s go.’”

Risper said last year’s playing experience made all the difference for him coming into this fall. While he’s knows he’s still got a lot to learn, the learning curve is a lot smaller.

“I mean I‘ve got the plays down a little bit more,” said Risper. “I could just start letting my body do the work — playing with my instincts and not really thinking about it as much.”

Bradford never thought he’d be in this position, either. That’s because the 6-foot-3, 325-pound sophomore tackle never played football until his junior year at St. Georges.

Until then, he just considered himself a baseball player. But a St. Georges football coach told him he should try the sport.

Brandon Bradford

“It just all went from there,” said Bradford. “It was the sport that I figured out you could physically manhandle somebody. It was fun. I stuck with it.

“I’ll always love baseball but I love football even more.”

Like any good offensive front, Wesley’s linemen have gotten pretty close. It helps to have chemistry when you’re working together.

“I feel like we’re starting to get on the same page,” said Bradford. “We’re getting that communication thing down. We talk a lot. We’re starting to get better and better each week. We’re starting to trust each other more, too.”

Extra points

While Wesley remained No. 12 in the D3football.com poll, the Wolverines moved up from No. 10 to No. 8 in the ACFC Coaches poll this week. … Salisbury is No. 15 in the coaches’ poll. … The Gulls are playing only a nine-game schedule this fall and have already had two open dates. … Wolverines QB Jon Mullin leads the NJAC in passing efficiency at a rating of 155.9.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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