August 6, 2018 10:59:31 AM
Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in a series that will feature some of the area's top prep football players. These players are expected to receive the most attention from college coaches/scouts. The Dispatch will profile a player each day leading up to the start of the regular season Friday, Aug. 17.
STARKVILLE -- Statistically speaking, Rodrigues "Dreke" Clark is the best running back in the last 10 years of Starkville High School football.
Clark leads all running backs in that stretch with 1,702 rushing yards. His 17 touchdowns are tied for best.
Looking back, Starkville High football coach Chris Jones thinks the coaches left something on the table with Clark. That won't happen again.
Clark emerged as the best option from a crowded group of running backs last season on the team's way to the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game. This season, the Yellow Jackets plan on him being much more than that.
"(We want him) to become a complete back. Individually, we want him to be a complete running back, we want him to catch some balls and make sure he's picking up the protection," Jones said. "A lot of it is on me. I didn't know the guys last year. I had a feeling for them, but now I have a great feel for who can and who can't do certain stuff.
"We kind of limited Dreke last year by not using him some at receiver. There are different ways to get him the ball where we don't just line him up in the backfield and let them tee off on him 20, 25 times."
Last season, Clark caught five passes for 32 yards and no touchdowns. He didn't return a kick or punt. Opportunities on both fronts will be there for the taking this season.
Starkville had three receivers catch at least 30 passes last year, all three of them going for more than 400 yards and at least seven scores. Two of them -- Cameron Hines (Jackson State) and Cameron Gardner (Mississippi State) are playing college football. Hines and Gardner combined for 1,372 yards and 21 of Starkville High's 32 receiving touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets will look to wide receiver Rufus Harvey and tight end Atavius Jones this season, but Clark could work his way into the mix to provide another option.
The return game is a similar story. Last season's best kick returner, Andreus Swanigan, was a senior; Natrone Brooks returned 30 punts last season, but he moved on to Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Once again, Clark easily could be one of Starkville's options.
Jones likened Clark's potential to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who has averaged 21.5 carries per game in the last two seasons while still taking on almost six receptions per game in that time. In both seasons, Bell ran for more than 1,200 yards and caught passes for more than 600 yards.
Clark is ready to have as many touches as he needs to.
"Just to get the ball more, that's the plan," Clark said. "Hopefully I won't just have rushing yards, I'll have receiving yards, too."
Clark also knows the flip side of the plan. He knows he will become the focal point of the opponent's game plan if he consistently gets 30 or more touches in games. He is willing to embrace the role of decoy and trust Harvey and company to gash defenses in the gaps he can help create simply by being there.
"The plan is everybody keying on (No.) 3, so it's an opportunity to get other players the ball in their hands," Clark said. "I just want to win state. Whatever it takes to go there. I don't have to prove anything to anybody."
Clark doesn't have anything to prove because he already has given a verbal commitment to play football at Memphis.
"They were my top school, and they showed me the most love, so I wanted to get it out of the way before the season started because colleges have been hitting me up every day," Clark said.
With his college destination settled, Clark can focus on being a Swiss army knife of sorts for Starkville. It's fitting because the Memphis offense he will join has been known to use players like Clark in similar ways. Jones has noticed that and enjoys watching Memphis' offense because he realizes players like Clark can turn games.
"It's more of a headache for defensive coordinators," Jones said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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