Kenny Clark knows he worked hard to get to where he is today. As a kid, he was dealt a tough hand when his father went to prison. This might cause some people to lose focus on their goals, but for Clark, his experiences gave him the mental toughness to become one of the top defensive tackles in the 2016 NFL Draft.
At 6-foot-3, 314 pounds, Clark is a massive man, genetically gifted to attack the line with raw speed and power. In 2015, he was selected third-team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 Conference. He was ranked second in both tackles (75) and sacks (6) for the 2015 Bruins.
But he doesn't rest on his laurels.
Preparing for the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Clark trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California.
On an early Friday morning in typical Southern California weather, we saw Clark go through an intense lower-body workout designed to increase the explosiveness that is already catching the attention of football analysts.
Here's what we learned from watching Clark's workout and catching up with him later that day.
He takes pride in his explosiveness
As a defensive lineman, Clark must be able to explode out of his stance to drive through offensive linemen or powerfully drive through gaps to make a play on the ball. He believes he excels in this area.
"I feel like scouts will be excited where I'm at, how I move and just how explosive I can be. By the time the Combine is done, [coaches] will have an idea of what I can do in the league and how good I can possibly be," he said. "I don't feel like I'm touching the ceiling yet on what my potential is. The coaches should be excited about the future that I have and the work I put forward."
And his strength coach agrees with him
"He's a very explosive individual for how big he is," said Josh Tuerpe, performance coach at Proactive Sports Performance. "He runs fast, he's big and he's pretty agile and explosive."
He enjoys competing in workouts
Eight NFL prospects training together guarantees a fiercely competitive environment. The guys might like each other, but no one wants to lose.
The coaches at Proactive took advantage of this. At the end of the workout, they had guys pair up and compete against each other in a 10-second elliptical sprint. The athlete who generated the most watts won, and the guys were absolutely grinding to put all they had into each sprint.
When asked about the competition, Clark responded with an enthusiastic smile.
"We like to do that a lot of times on Fridays, we usually compete. They teamed us up together and we go all out."
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We saw him perform quite possibly the hardest workout we've ever seen
After the workout at the facility was finished, Clark and the other athletes drove a half hour to the Malibu Sand Dunes. The dunes don't look imposing at first, but every single step up their 30-degree incline takes an enormous amount of effort.
We walked halfway up the 150-yard hill, which was difficult on its own. Imagine how hard it was for the 310-pound Clark to perform multiple sets of Zig-Zag Sprints, 10-Yard Intervals for a total of 40 yards and a 40-Yard Full Sprint.
On the final Sprint, Clark gave everything he had to make it up the hill. He took a few steps, stopped and quickly recovered, then repeated until he reached the other athletes, who were cheering him on. It was a grind, and we didn't envy him
Although he was the last guy to make it up, it wasn't for lack of conditioning. Clark is a big guy and he has to move a lot more weight than the other athletes.
We had to give Clark a few minutes to cool off and catch his breath before asking him about the workout.
"The sand dunes ... probably one of the hardest days I've had," he said. "The last one, going all the way up to the top all the way from the bottom. It was a grind all the way up to where the coaches were."
But his attitude remained positive.
"It was a pretty cool experience."
If cool is pushing yourself to the point of complete failure, I guess we have to agree.
He has lofty, but realistic goals
"I want to set out to prove that I'm the best defensive linemen in my class. Not only in my class, but in the whole draft. I set out to prove I'm one of the best defensive players, too. I feel like I'm a great player and work hard at what I do."
And he made a solid impression
According to CBS.com, Clark is currently projected as a first- or second-round pick and is currently ranked seventh at his position. He had an impressive Combine, posting a 5.06-second 40-Yard Dash and placing fifth at his position with 29 reps on the 225-pound Bench Press.
Clark helped raise his family
At the age of 9, Clark's dad went to prison, and he has been there ever since. "Growing up and having my Dad being gone at 9, that's a lot for a kid to handle," he said.
Clark was immediately thrust into a position of responsibility, helping his Mother care for his brother and two sisters. No doubt there were some challenging times, but he credits his mental toughness for developing into the man he is today.
His mother is his role model
"My mom worked hard and stayed mentally strong and raised us to be good kids, taking after her," Clark said. "She worked hard but if something went wrong or she got knocked down a little bit, she got back up—always being mentally strong and taking that next step forward in her life. I take the same process into the draft. If I mess up on a drill, you won't see me worried about it. You'll probably see me smack my hands or smack my lips, but I won't be worried about it, because I know I put the work forward to being great. I'm going to work hard at what I do."
His cheat meal is actually pretty healthy
"Right now I'm in love with Panera Bread. I'll get a steak panini on Sundays. Then I eat healthy and flush everything out during the week."
If only all cheat meals were that healthy.
He has great advice for young athletes
"Everybody is gonna say work hard," he said. "What I have to say is stay mentally with the plan. A lot of kids work hard and wonder why isn't this going right for me or why isn't this happening? The biggest thing for a kid is to get mentally strong. Whether you play football or not, as long as you keep fighting to get better mentally, it's a plus for everyone. That's probably one of the biggest things that kids need to strive to be great in. I see a lot of kids in San Bernardino working hard in football and trying to get to college and do great things. But sometimes if something doesn't go right, the smallest thing can mess a kid up in the head. Just be mentally strong and relax."
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