Running sprint after sprint during preseason basketball practice isn't so bad.
Lakes senior Direll Clark might even consider it a bit of a reprieve. He comes to basketball after being shoved, dragged, grabbed, smacked, twisted and gang-tackled every single time he touched the ball during football season.
"Yeah, maybe," Clark said with a laugh, sounding only partially convinced of the classification of sprints as a reprieve.
Strong and relentless, Clark was the primary target of opposing varsity defenses for the past three years. Yet, despite the constant attention, he was consistently one of the top running backs in Lake County. This fall, he rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"I try not to let (the pounding) bother me," Clark said. "I just get up and get ready to do it again."
And, ideally, again and again … and again some more. Clark is hoping he'll be playing even more football in the future. He's getting serious looks from major Division I colleges, including some in the Big Ten, such as Illinois and Purdue.
Basketball is a different story.
Clark's first love is basketball, but he reluctantly accepts that this will be his last go-around. That's why quitting basketball to concentrate on football this winter never crossed his mind.
He also didn't want to miss out.
Lakes is coming off its best season in school history. The Eagles went 20-11 last year and advanced to their first-ever sectional championship game.
Clark believes that this year's team, which opens the season against Barrington on Monday in the Mundelein Thanksgiving tournament, could be even better.
"I think we can make a run and get further in the tournament than last year," Clark said. "We're looking good. We're not too tall, but we're fast. We make up for it with our speed.
"I'm just excited to start playing again. Normally, I come into basketball and I get off to a slow start because I'm still in football mode and it takes a while to get into basketball shape. But this year, I'm ready to go already, like after just a week of practice. I really worked hard during the off-season and I even went to the gym during football season. I think that made a difference. I wanted to make sure I had a really good season since this is my last year."
As in football, Clark is an impact player in basketball.
Known for his tough-as-nails defense and quick hands and feet, Clark has added a more consistent shot to his arsenal. He wants to be an even bigger offensive threat this season.
Last year, Clark was the Eagles' leading scorer but averaged about 12 points per game. He'd like to be closer to 20 points per game.
"We definitely need Direll to step up and take on more of the scoring," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "I think he'll be able to do that because he's gotten better offensively. His shot has improved and he's more comfortable (creating for himself).
"He's worked very hard and that's been really great to see because I think it would have been easy for him to sit out this year and say that he didn't want to risk getting hurt for football. But he is such a competitor and he sees the big picture. He knows this is his last chance with basketball."
Clark could take the exact same approach with track in the spring.
He joined the team last year mainly as a way to stay in shape for football, but he ended up having a lot of fun. He ran the 200 meter dash and did triple jump, high jump and long jump.
"Some of my friends from football were going out for track and I figured that I might as well go out, too, and work on my speed," Clark said. "I liked it. It kept me busy and that's how I am. I'm always just non-stop. I've got this motor inside and it's like I've got to keep moving."
Clark also has some good moves in the kitchen. That's right, the kitchen.
If sprints really were a reprieve for Clark, then the kitchen would be a vacation spot, a place for true peace and relaxation.
Believe it or not, Clark is quite the baker. His teammates know it. He once brought them homemade chocolate eclairs.
"I made them for my world geography class. We were talking about different countries and the foods they eat," Clark said. "I had leftovers and I brought them to football practice. The guys liked them."
"I also bake a lot of cakes and brownies, and I just baked some cookies. I just like baking in my free time. It's a lot of fun. In college, I want to major in business and my Mom says that I should open up my own bakery someday."
Odds are it would do well. Clark is used to the sweet taste of success.
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