There were days when Malachi Clark kept his head down and just kept working.
For a high school football player with a dream of one day playing at the next level, the changes demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to derail everything.
“When this all started, we were all just at our houses trying to figure out what we could do,” the West Valley senior running back said.
Clark and his teammates attacked the situation the same way they attack opposing defenses: in unison.
“What we ended up doing was driving to Coeur d’Alene every day and working out there,” he said. “Idaho never really shut down. We did follow all of the protocols; we wore our masks and kept our distance from each other.”
There were goals to reach and Clark has the kind of work ethic that allows him to concentrate on the task in front of him.
He played as a junior at 170 pounds as part of a running back tandem. If he was going to shoulder the load himself as a senior, he felt he needed to add 20 pounds of muscle.
“My goal was to play at 190 pounds,” he said. “In the offense we run, you have to be a little bigger than what I was last year in order to handle the bruising offense we have.
“I knew I wanted to get bigger. I knew I wanted to get faster. I just kept working and, thankfully, I reached my goals.”
The fall season came and went and so did the last of 2020, but with the new year the hope of having a football season wedged into what would ordinarily be the end of basketball season began to appear.
“The fact that we were able to play at all is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” West Valley football coach Craig Whitney said. “I think the kids were just ecstatic when we were finally able to get on the field. We told them what they needed to do if we were going to play and they were great about it.”
West Valley was 5-0 on the field in the truncated Greater Spokane League season. The midseason showdown with Shadle Park, which also finished 5-0, was canceled while the Highlanders went through contact tracing and COVID protocols.
The Eagles led the GSL in total offense and were second in total defense while Clark rushed for 14 touchdowns, adding two more on receptions to lead the league in scoring.
Sonny Asu of Othello led the GSL in rushing with 1,185 yards on 147 carries in seven games. Clark was second with 1,060 yards in five games.
Clark was named the GSL 2A Offensive Most Valuable Player.
“I’m proud of Malachi,” Whitney said. “We had a running back-by-committee when he was a sophomore and I think he took a little bit from what each of other backs could do and he created his own identity. He’s a patient guy and he does a great job of following his blockers.”
“I like that word, patient,” Clark said. “I can do either – be a bruiser or a slasher. I’ve been fortunate to learn from some pretty good runners.
“For us to be successful, it takes all 11 of us doing our jobs. I have been lucky to have a great line in front of me. This group can compete with the best groups of linemen we’ve ever had. Those guys cleared whole alleys for me to run through.”
Clark said he’s dreamed of one day playing college football since he first arrived at West Valley as a freshman. After his junior season, he began contacting potential schools.
“I think I emailed every school on the West Coast,” he said. “And I emailed most of the schools in the central part of the country. I don’t think I missed any of them.”
He can’t say if he would have the chance to play on if his senior season had been wiped out. He considers himself fortunate not to have to find out.
Clark said he’s thankful for the shortened season, but not just for on-field statistics.
“It showed that anything is possible,” he said. “The odds were stacked against all of us – we weren’t supposed to have as season. It’s a testament to all the work we put in. We just kept checking off goals. It taught me to keep fueling my work ethic.
“It was all about perseverance.”