Archbishop Carroll football coach Rick Houchens has coached a lot of talented players. The former Eleanor Roosevelt coach has coached the likes of Jacksonville Jaguar Derrick Harvey, Baltimore Raven Jared Gaither, and former Maryland Terrapin Trey Covington. To put it bluntly, he knows how to identify talent and is confident the next big star will be Maryland's newest commitment Nathaniel Clarke.
He can be very special, Houchens said. He's extremely strong, physical, and has a nasty streak in him. He's humble but can be nasty on the field.
Last season the 6-foot-5, 280 lbs. Clarke played defensive tackle for Archbishop Carroll, but impressed college coaches so much as an offensive tackle at the Premier Showcase in New Jersey that a lot of his interest has come on that side of the field.
The majority of the guys like him on offense, Houchens said. He would practice against (defensive end) Jeremiah Attaochu every day in practice and blocking him every day made him work harder and become a better player.
The Terrapins were the first to offer Clarke after watching him practice, and it appears that they did so at the right time. Houchens says that college coaches were calling him all day, asking whether the story of Clarke's commitment was true, as they had strong interest in Clarke.
Clarke visited Wake Forest, North Carolina, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Maryland. Although he initially resisted the idea of going to college only minutes away from his home, the family atmosphere at Maryland overcame any location issues.
It just felt like a great fit for me, Clarke said. They have been behind me so much. Originally the location was a minus, but they really grew on me. I realized they were the right team for me.
Houchens admittedly is against early commitments, but was impressed enough with Clarke's reasoning to commit to Maryland that he gave it his blessing.
If you feel that strongly (about committing) you might as well go ahead, he said. I ask him to tell me why and if you can speak from the heart and tell me why then that's a good fit.
Maryland did a great job of saying we are with you in academic support. They said we are behind you 100% and will stay with you no matter what.
Clarke has flown under the radar for most of his high school career, in part because of the struggles the Carroll football program has endured. While he may be unknown to many at this point, Houchens says he is already further developed than a player fans should know very well.
He is way better than Jared Gaither was at this point in development, he said. His confidence is getting higher by the day. He is going to be very successful because his upside is just tremendous.
One of the main reasons why Houchens likes Clarke so much is because of his footwork. Although he admits that Clarke's feet were a bit of a mess when he first took over at Carroll, through hard work they've become his strongest asset.
He used to have Frankenstein feet-he would run on the heels of his feet, he said. But he has worked very hard on his speed and now knows to run on the balls of his feet. He has gotten so much better.
Now that Clarke has committed to the Terrapins, his next goal is to try to convince highly touted teammate Jeremiah Attaochu to join him at Maryland. Attaochu, who holds offers from 16 schools, doesn't figure to make a decision for a while, but that won't stop Clarke from trying to woo him.
I talk to him every day about going to Maryland, he said. I'm the main reason why he has Maryland on the top of his list. Hopefully he decides to join me at Maryland.