clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Forgotten Buckeyes: Vinnie Clark

Clark attended a unique and sports-centric Ohio high school, which led to state titles and interest from the Buckeyes. He became a ball-hawking cornerback as an upperclassman, as well as a surprising first-round NFL Draft pick.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Shortly after I began contributing to Land Grant Holy Land, I realized that I was already struggling to come up with good content for the offseason/summer months. Hell of a start, right? But unfortunately, once the NFL Draft takes place, the content well tends to dry up unless you’ve already dialed in on one of the spring sports or the NBA Draft (but as Buckeye hoops fans... you get it). Ohio State football and basketball – our most popular topics – are still part of the news cycle, but they have taken a back seat. And recruiting... well, there are people at LGHL who do a hell of a job covering it, so I wasn’t about to swim with those sharks.

I needed to think outside the box. I thought: Football is months away, basketball is months away, recruiting is speculative and subject to change... many of the topics being covered now revolve around future events or predictions. But what about former players? And I’m not talking recent or soon-to-be draftees, because those athletes are still being talked or written about.

I am referring to unheralded and underappreciated Buckeyes from decades ago, that have been forgotten by some (or most) since they last donned the scarlet and gray. And there it was: Forgotten Buckeyes. Other OSU fans and media types have taken a similar approach to recognition, but this is my personal way of appreciating those who left an indelible mark at Ohio State.

Welcome to Volume II.

Vinnie Clark grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he eventually became a CAPE Crusader. As cool as that might sound, I am not telling you that he became an affluent crime-fighting vigilante, complete with a sidekick and a cool car. I am referring to the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education. CAPE was founded in 1977, with a focus on physical education, and also aimed at accelerating desegregation in Cincinnati schools.

CAPE accepted and developed students K-12, as long as there was an increased interest in health and physical education — or at least that was their official, on-the-record modus operandi. But the academy eventually drew ire for its curriculum, supposed recruitment of student-athletes, and subpar test scores. “Jock Tech”, as it was referred to by detractors, came under fire for allegedly being nothing more than a school with which athletes could align themselves, for the sole purpose of competition. This led to the doors of the academy being permanently closed in 1994.

To be fair, former staff defended CAPE’s academic standards vehemently. And it is not uncommon for public schools to become frustrated if/when their top-tier athletes end up elsewhere, especially during high school. Staff and supporters also spoke highly of the opportunities this academy provided for students from lower-income homes and/or students with disabilities. Regardless of intent, CAPE did not last. But memories and tales of their sports teams did, and the Crusaders’ football team was an absolute powerhouse during the 80’s and early 90’s.

Clark was a vital member of CAPE’s 1985 and 1986 state title-winning teams. Along with fellow Buckeye Carlos Snow, he helped the Crusaders dominate Division III and Division IV teams, as the academy lost just seven games during its first five years of existence. Clark played wide receiver and corner, but was especially dominant on defense. He was a two-time All-Ohio honoree on that side of the ball, and picked off three passes in CAPE’s 1986 state championship game. Clark also added the team’s only touchdown (as a receiver), which speaks to his overall talent.

The Cincinnati HS standout committed to Earle Bruce and the Buckeyes as part of their 1987 recruiting class, but he never really played for the beloved coach. Clark did not see action as a freshman, and Bruce was fired after the season. Oddly enough, the young corner did not take a redshirt, despite failing to appear in game. John Cooper was brought in for the 1988 season, and coincidence or not, Clark saw a major increase in playing time.

It took until midseason, but Clark eventually cracked the starting lineup for Ohio State. He started six of the last seven games, racking up 43 tackles and one interception. He also tied for the team lead in passes broken up with four. As much as Clark might have enjoyed the newfound opportunity to play, the ’88 season was a forgettable one. The defensive talent had eroded from previous years, the offense was putrid, and as a result, the Buckeyes finished with a 4-6-1 record. Clark and Snow – his CAPE teammate and starting running back for OSU – were a few of the young bright spots, and both would (thankfully) go on to contribute to winning teams.

The Buckeyes improved to 8-4 in 1989, with Snow topping the 1,000-yard mark on offense and Clark becoming one of Ohio State’s better defenders. The cornerback totaled 59 tackles – good for fourth on the team – and three interceptions. Although inconsistent at times, Clark began to develop a reputation as a sticky coverman and willing tackler. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he certainly had the frame for it. He looked the part of a safety, but had tremendous speed and leaping ability, meaning he could physically match up with just about any receiving threat from the opposition. ’89 was Clark’s most successful season from a team standpoint, but he took a significant individual leap in 1990.

As a senior, Clark was voted one of the Buckeyes’ team captains, and he received plenty of help on an improving defense. Steve Tovar developed as a linebacker, Greg Smith and Jason Simmons made tons of noise in the backfield, and as a result, OSU surrendered just 18.3 points per game. The offense also took a step forward, averaging 29.1 PPG, but the team hit a wall late. Ohio State started out 7-2-1, before dropping The Rivalry matchup against TTUN and the Liberty Bowl to Air Force. The Buckeyes finished 1-3-1 against ranked teams (and 7-4-1 overall), with the highlight of their season being a 27-26 victory over No. 6 Iowa.

Clark became a dangerous ballhawk for the Buckeyes, finishing the 1990 season with seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. He added 52 tackles, and was voted Second Team All-Big Ten by the coaches. Ohio State finished with a cumulative record of 19-14-2 in games played by Clark, and he still finds himself just outside the top-10 for career interceptions (OSU). Due to his occasional up-and-down performance, he was viewed by many as a third-round NFL prospect. But all it takes is one team to fall in love, and the Green Bay Packers were willing to bet on his tremendous athleticism and untapped potential in the 1991 NFL Draft.

The Packers selected Clark 19th overall, surprising many. It turns out, the initial draft projections may have been more fitting. He was by no means a bust – let that be clear – playing six seasons in the NFL, before succumbing to concussion and injury-related issues. But Clark also never reached the anticipated high ceiling of a first-round draft pick. All the tools were there, but he bounced around the league, suiting up for four teams during those six seasons. He still managed to record at least one interception in each season played, finishing with 13 in his career. He also added 280 tackles in 83 games played (59 starts).

Unfortunately, the Jacksonville Jaguars cut Clark four games into the 1996 season, prematurely (and unknowingly) ending his NFL career. He hoped to catch on with another team, but a physical taken while negotiating with the Cincinnati Bengals revealed that he was dealing with a spinal disease. A surgeon told Clark it was no longer safe to continue playing football, and his career was suddenly over due to factors beyond his control. He was still a young man, and had been relatively productive, but Clark was ultimately forced to hang ‘em up.

This former Buckeye has kept a relatively low profile since his time in the NFL, but he has maintained a presence in the game of football. Clark had a brief stint as an assistant coach for the Columbus Destroyers, an Arena Football League team once coached by his former teammate Chris Spielman, and according to the world wide web, he has coached some high school football. He also keeps in touch with Snow, and the two are able to reminisce about their time as high school and college teammates.

Clark never ascended to super-stardom, but he was one of the few bright spots during John Cooper’s early years. He helped facilitate the transition from Bruce to Cooper, and should be remembered as one of the better and more athletic corners of his era. Here’s to Vinnie Clark, former first-round NFL Draft pick.