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May 17, 2024

After Redshirt Year, COC Graduate Keeps Going

College of the Canyons football student-athlete Joshua Clark knows a thing or two about stepping up. 

Clark, who is graduating from the college on May 31 with a degree in liberal arts and sciences, was three games into the 2022 season year when his father told him he could no longer secure work due to osteoarthrosis.  

As the bills piled up and rent on the family’s Lancaster home became overdue, Clark made the difficult decision to take a redshirt year and sit out the remainder of the season.

“I put my dream of playing football and earning a scholarship on hold to take care of my family,” said Clark, who is the oldest of five. “I turned into the head of the household so that I could keep the lights on and food on the table for myself, my siblings, and my father.”

Life at home became even more challenging when his mom checked into rehab for drug addiction, taking the family car with her.

With Clark’s personal vehicle as the family’s main mode of transportation, the 21-year-old was forced to stop attending COC full-time so that he’d be available to take his siblings to school. 

“In order to coat our new reality, I tried my best to keep them in their extracurricular activities so that they didn’t feel or see the real tough spot we were truly in,” said Clark. 

Under all the strain, Clark failed to pass one of the two online classes he was enrolled in at COC, which put his eligibility for the following season at stake. 

When Clark realized his goal to transfer to a four-year school as a student-athlete was in jeopardy, he reached out to Chad Peters, dean of kinesiology, health and wellness, fitness and athletics at COC, to begin the process of appealing his eligibility with the California Community College Athletic Association (3C2A), based on extenuating circumstances. 

Peters says he was so happy that Clark asked for help and completed the appeal process. 

“Student-athletes will at times reach out regarding an appeal, but not follow through,” said Peters. “I met with Josh several times during the appeal process, and he diligently completed each task required of him.”

Clark says filing the appeal was the biggest gamble he has taken in his life. 

“There was no guarantee that I would ever be able to play again,” said Clark, who was a member of the Antelope Valley College football program in 2021 before arriving at Canyons the following spring. “If I didn’t get the appeal, I wouldn’t say my football and college career would have been over, but it would have been harder for me to do it. I know I am very resourceful, but I don’t know what that would have looked like because I don’t have the kind of money to go to a four-year college.”

While Clark waited for an appeals decision from the 3C2A, his family rallied around him and provided him with the support he needed to re-enroll at COC full-time.

Watching his teammates play the entire 2022 season without him, while not knowing if he would be able to play again, was crushing, says Clark, who continued to show up for football practice when he could. 

“Every time I would think about football my heart would just drop,” said Clark. 

Aside from Peters, Clark credits Canyons football head coach Ted Iacenda, and assistant coaches Dan Corbet and Seth Oseransky for keeping him focused.

“They were keeping me accountable, making me show up every day even if I didn’t want to,” said Clark. “I felt like if I wasn’t going to practice, I was letting them down, I was letting my team down.”

Iacenda says he admires Clark’s tireless work ethic and self-discipline, in an age where those traits are sorely lacking.

“His perseverance through some of the harshest obstacles, where most would have given up, is without a doubt an inspirational story that we will be telling around College of the Canyons for years to come,” said Iacenda. “Josh is a shining example to all our future Cougars that the most arduous pathways lead to the most beautiful destinations.”

In May 2023, Clark received a text message from Peters before team practice with the news that his appeal had been approved. 

“I just started crying,” said Clark. “That’s all I could do. All that stress was behind me and off my shoulders. I worked super hard.”

Peters says the entire COC Athletics staff was thrilled to hear about Clark’s successful appeal.  

"Seeing Josh play this past year, with an ear-to-ear grin, and now seeing him get multiple offers to play at the next level, these are the things that those of us who work in athletics live for,” added Peters. “I have the utmost respect for Josh in the way he prioritized his family over his football career.”

Once back on the roster, Clark wasted no time in making an impact with the Cougars. During the 2023-24 season, he had 42 carries  for 361 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He also added nine receptions for 193 yards, an average of 21.4 yards per catch, and another touchdown through the air.  

Clark says his most memorable game was the Cougars’ 49-45 loss to Allan Hancock College on Oct. 21. He finished the game with 108 rushing yards and two touchdown runs to go with four catches for 153 receiving yards and a third touchdown.

His score midway through the third quarter was instrumental in helping get Canyons back in the game at 35-28. He also added back-to-back runs of 25 and 22 yards during the third quarter scoring drive before getting into the end zone. His second rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter briefly gave COC the lead at 45-42. Clark's first score of the game came by way of a 77-yard touchdown pass in the opening quarter.  

“If I never got that year back, I would have never had that great game,” said Clark. 

Following his exploits vs. Allan Hancock, Clark was named COC Student-Athlete of the Week. 

At season’s end, he earned a spot on the 2023 Southern California Football Association (SCFA) Scholar-Athlete Team based on his performance in the classroom.

Clark, who plans to study kinesiology, has already received transfer offers from Kentucky State University and New Mexico Highlands University and is waiting to receive more. 

Looking back on his detour to graduation, Clark has advice for students who may unexpectedly find themselves in a tough spot.

“Giving up, that’s the easy route,” said Clark. “The hard part is believing that everything is going to be ok. Even if things don’t go your way, you’re going to find a way to make it ok. Keep going.”