At 6-3, 315 pounds, Chaminade-Madonna senior Khairi Clark is quite an imposing figure on the football field, but the U.S. Army All-American defensive tackle adds to it with what his mother calls his “mean stare-down.’’
“A lot of people say he has this look, this mean look, but he’s a very caring, very affectionate kid,’’ said Uwezo Ross, a Miami Beach police officer and single mother who used to be a high school basketball star in her own right at Miami Jackson High.
“He was such a nice kid in Optimist football he used to knock people down and then go pick them up. I would have to tell him, ‘Khairi, you are on defense, that’s your job. That’s what you’re supposed to do.’ He’s grown out of that. He knows he’s there to knock them down now.’’
Rated the nation’s 11th-best defensive tackle by ESPN.com, Clark got his toughness from his mother, according to Lions coach Marcelo Rodriguez. An only child, Ross has been the only parent around for most of Clark’s life. Despite working the graveyard shift as a dispatcher and then an officer, Ross has made it to nearly every one of her only child’s football games, and kept him in line.
“She’s basically mom and dad for me,’’ Clark said. “She’s very strict on me, takes her job very seriously, takes my job seriously on the field and in the classroom. She’s the inspiration of my life.’’
With his mother working late nights, Clark has been waking up in the mornings on his own, making himself breakfast, cleaning up his room and taking out the garbage all by himself since he was 8 years old.
Growing up fast
“He had to grow up really fast and take on a lot of responsibility as a kid," Ross said. “I would call him up, wake him up to make sure he got on the bus and went to school. And he did. He never got into trouble, never gave me any hard time at all.’’
Clark also hasn’t had much trouble on the football field either.
He was so big, though, he usually had to play with kids older than him growing. That made him tough, Ross said.
By the time Clark got to high school, it didn’t take him long to earn a spot on Chaminade’s varsity team. He’ll be a three-year starter for Rodriguez this season, a menace in the middle that wreaks havoc as a pass rusher and stuffs the run.
Clark bench presses 415 pounds, squats over 500 pounds and power cleans 265 pounds. He has lifted 225 pounds (the NFL combine testing standard) a total of 20 times. Last year, he used all that strength and athleticism to produce nine sacks and 26 tackles for loss in earning All-Broward First Team honors, and eventually an invite this summer to play in January’s U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio.
College? Clark got that out of the way, too. He committed to the University of Florida in June, choosing the Gators over the hometown Miami Hurricanes after walking on campus and falling in love with Gainesville.
“I’ve never had a physical presence on one of my defenses like him,’’ said Rodriguez, a former defensive coordinator on both of Chaminade’s previous state championship teams.
Lots of offers
“We had Gus Mustakos who went to the University of Pitt. He had a great motor and was sort of that caliber. But Khairi is the most sought-out athlete from a national standpoint I’ve had. Not even [Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Jon] Beason and those guys had as many offers as Khairi.’’
Rodriguez said he wants to see Clark improve his endurance and provide more leadership this season. Clark has worked on both, preparing himself for this season with morning workouts and runs on the sand on South Beach. His mom said he trains with his cousin.
Clark, who has played on the offensive line some in the past, will start both ways this season for the Lions, who hope to ride his big broad shoulders back to the playoffs in Class 3A despite the losses to key transfers and graduation.
“It’s his team,” Rodriguez said. “He knows it’s his year and his team to take far into the playoffs. We’re definitely going to be asking a lot of him, helping out on both sides of the ball. But he’s just too good just to keep him on one side of the ball.’’
Said Clark: “I’m ready for a big year.’’