The story of Jonathan Clark's rise to prominence in high school track and field revolves around hard work and making dreams come true.
"I think anything is possible," he said. "My mom always tells me to shoot for the moon because if you fail, you're still among the stars."
When Clark was a 99-pound freshman at Los Angeles Loyola, he remembers a football player using him as a barbell.
FOR THE RECORD: High school track: The Los Angeles Loyola High track and field coach was misidentified in Eric Sondheimer's column in Friday's Sports section as Michael Porterville. His name is Michael Porterfield. —
"High school was tough back then," he said. "I was considered one of the geeks of the class."
By his sophomore year, Clark gave up football, became the team manager and went out for track. The coaches gave him the nickname Slinky.
"He was really an uncoordinated, lanky, goofy kid," Coach Michael Porterville said. "He couldn't run three steps in a straight line."
He cleared 5 feet 10 in the high jump, went 40 feet in the triple jump and kept working hard. His body was changing, and he'd spend hours in the weight room building strength.
As a junior, he set the school record for the triple jump, reaching 46-6. Suddenly, Clark was serving notice of being someone to reckon with.
Two weeks ago, he went 6-10 in the high jump and 49-0 in the triple jump to win both events at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays.
"I was so pumped, I did a back-flip," he said.
Last week, he accepted a track scholarship to UCLA.
"My dreams are coming true," he said.
Friends who remember him as a 5-4 freshman can hardly recognize him today as a 6-2, 155-pound senior.
"I talk to my friends now and they used to pick on me and beat me up and I told them one day I was going to be 6-4, 220 pounds, come back and get them," he said. "I'm not up to 220, yet."
Porterville calls Clark "an incredible kid" who never stopped believing he could become a top athlete.
"He's going to get better," he said. "He hasn't tried to peak yet."
Clark lives in Baldwin Hills with his mother, Lisa, a single parent with three children. Her message to her oldest son has been consistent.
"She's always told me to work hard, keep your head up and not let anyone tell me I couldn't do anything," Clark said.
Clark never doubted he would reach his goals and aspirations if he committed himself to his success.
"I always wanted to make sure I was that person who, when everyone else was relaxing or having a good time, was the one opting to stay home working on a paper or doing sit-ups or push-ups to have an advantage," Clark said.
Clark is still dreaming.
"There's more to come, definitely," he said. "I would like to be an Olympian, to be a world record-holder. I want to get my degree, and I would like to coach and help kids like myself reach their dreams and aspirations."
Clark is constantly looking out for freshmen in need, remembering what it was like in his early days trying to overcome the challenges and expectations of high school life.
"I haven't seen any freshmen with my size, but there's plenty of freshmen that have that same mentality about dreaming big that I did, and I try to be a mentor," he said.
The lesson Clark keeps teaching: Don't let anyone deter a dream.
"A lot of people were telling me, 'You're not going to do that,' " he said. "It pushed me. It was something I wanted to do and went after it."
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer @latimes.com.
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