Northridge's Clarke Is Eager for Second Shot at Weber State

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Norman Clarke pointed to his muscular arm, his voice racing with excitement.

"Look at this," he said, "I'm getting goose bumps just talking about it."

It is always like that for Clarke, a senior running back for Cal State Northridge, when the subject turns to Weber State.

On days like today, when Northridge plays host to the Wildcats in a 6:05 p.m. game at North Campus Stadium, Clarke needs no canned pep talk or boot in the rear for motivation.

"When I signed with Northridge, I signed just to play [against] Weber State," Clarke said.

The Matadors (2-3, 0-1 in Big Sky Conference play) need to defeat Weber State (3-2, 1-1) to rejoin the chase for the conference title--or at least to cling to hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.

Clarke, 6 feet and 185 well-chiseled pounds, needs to prove a point.

The intense desire Clarke has for beating Weber State started building soon after he left that program in the fall of 1993.

Clarke was recruited to Ogden out of Hesperia High, where he was a three-year starter for the Scorpions and a two-time All-San Andreas League selection.

While at fall camp with the Wildcats, Clarke said there was a party one night near the team dorms. He decided to see what was happening and stepped outside, only to be busted, he said, by a residence assistant who reported him to Coach Dave Arslanian.

"I didn't go up there to cause a ruckus or anything like that," Clarke said. "I told [Arslanian] I couldn't believe I was losing my scholarship over that.

"I remember telling him, 'I'll be back.' He said, 'Not in this program.' I told him it might not be in that program, but I would be back."

Clarke fulfilled that promise.

After spending two seasons at San Bernardino Valley College, Clarke transferred last year to Northridge and was performing in relative obscurity when the Matadors traveled to Ogden. The Wildcats were ranked 21st in Division I-AA and among the favorites in the Big Sky, a conference Northridge had just joined.

Clarke rallied the Matadors, who scored 28 consecutive points in the second half en route to a 35-28 upset, rushing for 111 yards in the half and finishing with a career-high 171 yards in 28 carries. He opened Northridge's scoring with a three-yard run early in the first quarter and capped it with a 10-yard sprint with 5:44 to play.

"It was such a big deal for me to play up there last year," Clarke said.

"I have nothing against the team or the people there or the town of Ogden. It's just that sometimes things happen between players and coaches."

Another one of those things happened to Clarke this season.

Jim Fenwick, Northridge's first-year coach, suspended Clarke and running backs Jahi Arnold and Marcus Harvey for the first half of a nonconference game at New Mexico State on Sept. 13 for violating curfew the night before.

But Clarke said the punishment fit the crime.

"They didn't say, 'Hey, we are taking everything away,' " Clarke said.

Arslanian, in his ninth season at Weber State, said there was more to the story than Clarke's version but he preferred not to specify.

"Sometimes, young men are young and dumb," Arslanian said. "If he can't admit to those things, I'm not going to bother to get into them. It was far more significant than opening a door by mistake. . . .

"He has grown up and I'm extremely happy that things have worked out for him."

Fenwick would prefer that Clarke tone down his comments about Weber State, what with bulletin boards always having prominent space for these types of war cries. If nothing else, it could save Clarke, Northridge's leading rusher with 235 yards in 52 carries, from roaming around the field with a bull's eye on his red jersey.

"I don't think there's any value to teaching vengeance and revenge," Fenwick said. "We don't promote that at all. I don't think that's healthy for anyone. . . . If that's something that helps him prepare, more power to him."

Clarke said the payback mentality, perhaps seen as petty by some and unproductive by others, is a catharsis for an unhappy chapter in his life.

"When you are punished for something you know you didn't do, it bothers you," Clarke said.

"It left a hole in my heart. The only way I can fill that hole in my heart is to beat that team twice."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Weber State (3-2, 1-1) at Northridge (2-3, 0-1)

When: Tonight, 6:05

Where: North Campus Stadium

Fast fact: Northridge last played host to Weber State in 1975, winning, 17-10.

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