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Former quarterback catches break as Wildcat outfielder

Nicholas Woodard

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Ryne Clark 2

Clark prepares to throw his bat and run for first base. Photo credit: Emily Teague

Today, Ryne Clark calls the outfield of Nettleton Stadium home. But four years ago, his home was on a San Diego State football field.

It’s been quite a journey since then.

The senior Chico State outfielder spent his pre-Wildcat days battling for a quarterback job for the Aztecs before returning to find success in baseball.

Clark graduated from Palm Desert High School, where he spent fall nights leading the football squad and spring afternoons patrolling the outfield for the baseball team.

The baseball program at Palm Desert was great, but for some reason Clark received more exposure playing as quarterback than on the baseball diamond, he said.

Clark’s athletic gifts were on display his senior year, when he averaged 139 passing yards a game and also rushed for 373 yards per season.

“He was very athletic, he could escape trouble when he couldn’t find a receiver and really give the defense fits,” said Brian Sipe, San Diego State quarterback coach. “He was very strong, very physical and had a powerful arm. He was a good quarterback.”

Sipe, who spent 10 years as a quarterback in the NFL, liked what he saw on film and Clark was offered a scholarship to play quarterback for San Diego State.

After accepting in the spring, Clark didn’t get any calls about baseball scholarships despite batting .442 with two home runs and 27 RBIs his senior year.

Clark redshirted for the Aztecs during the 2009-10 season and competed for a backup spot the following year. He wore the headset and held the clipboard, never getting a snap.

Clark believed he could fill the vacant starting role, he said. However, coaching staff changes decided whether Clark would start as quarterback.

“There was no clear path to starting,” Sipe said. “There was a duel between Ryne and another guy.”

The coaches told him they were going in another direction with a younger player, Clark said. He decided to finish the fall semester and try out for the San Diego State baseball team.

“It was something that was always in the back of my mind,” Clark said. “I remember watching the College World Series in the spring and thinking, ‘I wonder if I could have done that.’”

Clark hadn’t played baseball in more than two years and didn’t know how to get back into it, he said. Fortunately for him, Sipe helped set up a tryout with the baseball team.

“I felt like he was the kind of player and competitor that any coach would want to take a shot at,” Sipe said. “It was easy for me to recommend him to the baseball staff. I was happy to do it.”

Clark spent two weeks working out with the team before the coaches told him that he was behind, Clark said. He needed to go somewhere where he could get some at-bats and more playing time.

Clark returned home and played right field for the College of the Desert to shake off the rust. He batted .331 with 24 RBIs in 31 games.

“Baseball was a sport I had been playing ever since I was little,” Clark said. “There was definitely a learning curve coming back, but I never really felt out of place.”

The strong play caught the attention of Wildcat head coach Dave Taylor, who liked Clark’s athleticism.

“You can have a guy that can run or you can get a guy that can hit,” Taylor said. “Ryne has the whole package. He’s a guy at the top of the order that can do a little bit of everything.”

Taylor knew Clark hadn’t played a lot of baseball recently but offered him a scholarship to play for Chico State, he said. Clark’s transition back to baseball wasn’t tough and as soon as he caught up he would be game-ready.

Game-ready may be an understatement. In 2013, his first year as a Wildcat, Clark batted .320 with 20 RBIs and used his football athleticism on the basepaths, stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts.

Clark began this year just as hot, hitting .311 with nine RBIs and five stolen bases in 20 games this season. With his bat, Chico State has surged to a 16-5 start and 8-4 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association.

Clark’s football days helped his baseball career, he said. He built up a lot of strength from football workouts and playing under center also improved his mental approach.

“The biggest thing I took away was the mental toughness,” Clark said. “As a football player, it’s something you have to develop because it’s a very demanding sport.”

Clark never did get a snap at San Diego State, but it was a great experience for him, he said. He can look back on it as an opportunity that very few get to have.

“The only thing I would do differently would be to give baseball more of a shot,” Clark said. “Maybe I could have let that play out. But as far as do I regret playing football at San Diego State? Not at all.”

Nick Woodard can be reached at nw[email protected] or @nwoodard25 on Twitter.

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Former quarterback catches break as Wildcat outfielder