If you’re a die-hard sports fan, you’ve probably seen the 1993 sports classic “Rudy,” starring Sean Astin. Based on a true story, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is introduced as an undersized but resilient high school athlete, who harbors a dream of playing football for the University of Notre Dame.
When his high school embarks on a campus visit to South Bend, Rudy is stopped by his history teacher before he boards the bus, who explains that the trip is for students who have a legitimate chance of being accepted. While Rudy’s poor grade point average is his initial obstacle to reaching his dream, it’s his unrelenting drive for a seemingly unrealistic athletic goal that makes his co-workers, friends and even his family members laugh.
Dream on, kid.
But after working at a local power plant for a few years and enduring the death of his best friend, Rudy proved his doubters wrong, gaining acceptance to Notre Dame as a junior college transfer on his fourth attempt. And after successfully walking onto one of the most famous football programs in all the land, the rest is history.
Cal receiver Trevon Clark doesn’t have the same claim to fame that young Rudy found, but their stories do share similar anecdotes.
“I used to sleep in the car at school just to try and get a little bit of rest in between classes and then I’d have to go to practice,” Clark said, reflecting on his junior college experience. “So it was tough, but shoot, it’s worth it being here.”
Now one of the Bears’ leading targets outside the hashes, Clark didn’t have to spend time away from football doing part-time work nor did he have to walk-on in college, as Rudy did. But the shadow of his remote hometown, his struggles in the classroom and, of course, his fair share of doubters mirror that of college football’s most famous first name.
While Rudy’s playing career ended after just three plays in a Notre Dame uniform, Clark’s is just getting started with the blue and gold. His grateful outlook is a testament to the arduous path he’s endured to this point — one that only the toughest emerge from.
When you look up Victorville, Calif., you’ll find that it is home to more than 100,000 people in San Bernardino County, which is about an hour and a half (with traffic) from downtown Los Angeles. With a large population and a Southern California setting, it appears at first glance to be an ideal situation — attraction-wise and location-wise — for an aspiring football star.
Not the case for Clark and other young athletes from Victorville, however.
“In high school, I did a lot of standout things,” Clark said. “It kind of got my name out there, but playing in Victorville, it was hard; it’s hard to be seen. So that’s why I didn’t really get any opportunities out of high school. I also put that on myself. I wasn’t really doing that well in the classroom, but yeah, I did a lot of great things in high school.”
It was at Silverado High School in Victorville where Clark met Daniel Dexter, who he now calls his best friend. Together the duo trained, competed and shared a common goal of suiting up for a Division I program. As a one-two punch at the receiver position, they were almost unstoppable.
Their stardom was on display during their semifinal contest of the CIF-SS playoffs, a game Silverado came into as a significant underdog. On a chilly evening in front of their home crowd, Clark and Dexter blew away their competition.
“(Clark) had a really big game, like a four-touchdown game,” Dexter recalled. “We didn’t really play too many schools with big-name players, but we ended up beating them. We blew them out. I don’t remember how many yards he had or all the stats, but I know he had four touchdowns and I think it was like 200 yards.”
Although his teammate remembers him as the star, Clark recalled that Dexter also had an 89-yard score that night to help send their team to the finals. And while Clark’s growth as a receiver led him to the position he holds down today, it was a play on the defensive side of the ball that remains ingrained in their minds from that evening.
“He caught a one-handed pick in the end zone,” Dexter said. “It was just like … crazy. Everybody was looking at him like, ‘Man.’ ”
Despite suffering an injury that sidelined him for a year, Clark’s dominance in high school is encapsulated in that one night — a career that featured plays on both sides of the ball and a memorable experience with his best friend, both on and off the field.
But when the dust settled on his high school career, Clark faced a harsh reality: no FBS offers to play football at the next level. It was time to channel his inner Rudy.
Both Clark and Dexter ended up enrolling at El Camino College, where the wide receivers coach is none other than former Cal star Geoff McArthur. On the field, Clark didn’t miss a beat from his high school days, racking up nearly 600 yards and 10 touchdowns during his freshman season.
But it was off the field where his faith, determination and grit were tested. While El Camino presented Clark with a prime opportunity to display his skill set and make the leap to the Division I level, it was located in Torrance, nearly 100 miles from home.
With a tight-knit family that supported his endeavors, Clark began a routine that will stick with him for the rest of his life.
“I wake up at about 4 in the morning,” Clark said of his daily commute while attending El Camino. “I have to get to school and be in class by 7. So the morning traffic going to LA is crazy, so I try to give myself an (extra) hour. Every day I was sliding in just on time, and I was waking up at 4 in the morning already. That was the drive there, and just being dead tired. By the time I got back home, I had to be up again, it was already about 9:30.”
In between classes, studying and catching up on sleep in the school parking lot, Clark attended practice every day exhausted to the core but steadfast in his belief that he could get through it.
All of a sudden, completing one-handed interceptions seemed like nothing compared to his new life at the junior college level.
“Whatever life you want to live, it starts with being responsible,” Clark said. “So that’s what that (routine) really taught me. It turned me from a boy into a man, I can say. I had a lot more responsibilities and me taking it on and just knowing what I’m worth and what I can do in my career, just pushed me every day to get up and go.”
Today, Clark emphasizes that the biggest thing he appreciates about Berkeley is the support system he’s received from the Cal family. The journey he’s experienced is reflected in the effort he puts into everything he does, and his story itself is one that coaches describe as one of their favorites.
“I was able to see his work ethic — I was able to see his motivation, his grind and his day-to-day perseverance before he even got here,” said Cal receivers coach Burl Toler III. “So it was kind of assumed that he would have that same mentality once he was here, and he turned it up even more.”
Twenty-five years after Rudy’s perseverance at a local community college paid off on the big screen, Clark was following suit with a great comeback story. He posted nearly 1,000 receiving yards in his second season at El Camino, matching his touchdown total from the previous year and earning All-American, All-State and All-California Region III honors.
And after only receiving a pair of walk-on offers from smaller Division I programs as a high school senior, his mailbox and phone began to explode.
“The spring after (my first) football season, I started blowing up off of my last season’s film,” Clark said. “So I started blowing up; I think had eight offers within just the spring. And then they went on a dead period. And then starting the season, I had another big year. I racked in about 15, 16 offers and it picked up real quick. Faster than I can even explain.”
Suddenly, everybody was after Victorville’s hometown hero. Now standing at 6’4” with one of the best set of hands on the junior college market, Clark rose quickly to the top of college scouts’ watchlists.
After two years of waking up before sunrise and making it to lecture after driving for two hours each morning, it was time for Clark’s big break. And for a guy that regrets not doing more in the classroom as a high school student, UC Berkeley became his top choice for just that reason.
“I wouldn’t look at (academics) as a challenge, I would just look at it as … it’s hard, but it’ll be worth it at the end of the day,” Clark said. “Having this degree, I want to take on the challenge so I can walk away with this type of education.”
While Clark’s commute has certainly been an easier task to handle since his arrival in Berkeley, his responsibilities continue to exceed those of the average student. Last summer, his girlfriend gave birth to their first child, a son who serves as his primary motivation.
Responsibilities aside, the transition to life as a Cal student has been enjoyable for Clark and his girlfriend, who he gives credit to for supporting him every single day. From trips to the Home of Chicken and Waffles diner in Oakland to his favorite class, Sociology 167, “Virtual Communities/Social Media,” he’s making the most of an opportunity that a few years ago seemed unattainable.
“I’m motivated by a lot of things, one being that I have a child, two being just things I want to achieve in my life and how far I want to go in my career,” Clark said. “Every time I make a play, I just think about my son just sitting up there watching me and it’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”
In eight games for the Bears, Clark has made an impact, recording 15 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. While the Bears have struggled of late to snap a four-game losing streak, mired with offensive struggles, those who know Clark are eager to see what’s in store to close out 2019.
“I feel like he’s a future first-round draft pick,” Dexter said on seeing his friend competing at the next level. “He’s a big play waiting to happen.”
And unlike Rudy, Clark has already seen the field for more than just a play or two. With four games left this year and another full season ahead with the Bears, it’s safe to say there’s more to come from No. 80 out wide.
“I’ll never quit — I’m here to help us win, and every chance I get, I’m going to make a play,” Clark said. “I want everybody to know that they haven’t seen nearly the best from me, and they’ll see it soon.”