STARKVILLE, Miss. — Rodrigues Clark lay in a hospital bed inside Oktibbeha County Hospital when he heard words that threatened to rip his life and his dreams to shreds.
It was 2015. Clark was a freshman running back at Starkville. He had broken his left tibia and fractured his left ankle, jeopardizing his football career and threatening his family’s future.
Clark’s mother, Ivory Gray, stood by his side. A doctor entered the room. He told Clark his football career might be over. Clark loves football, but he doesn’t just play for sport. He plays to one day provide for his three siblings — Abrieayah (16), Tyreke (13) and India (11) — and his mom. Especially his mom.
When Clark talks about his mom, his face glows.
“She’s one of a kind,” Clark said. “I love my momma.”
Clark has seen his mother struggle to provide for him and his siblings. Arthritis in Gray’s hip forced her to stop working three years ago, so she relies heavily on her mother and her aunt. Plus, she and the father of her children divorced in 2010. When Clark’s father left, he told Clark he was the man of the house. Clark was 9 years old.
“That’s when football came in my life,” Clark said. “It’s one way out.”
So, when the doctor said Clark may never be able to play again, Clark cried. Gray grasped his hand. How would he provide for his family? Clark and his family clung to hope and prayed, and Clark soon underwent surgery. When the surgery ended, the doctor delivered better news. He said Clark should be able to play again, and he did.
A year later, Clark competed for the starting job at Starkville. In the third game of the season, against West Point, Clark rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown. Coaches decided he would start the next game.