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lamberts-lost-tooth
03-30-2008, 03:46 AM
Healthy Clark sets sights on return to Steelers
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, March 30, 2008

It's not that he ever thought about dying.

But during those days when the simple act of raising his arms caused him to wince in pain and those nights when a raging fever made him sweat so profusely that his wife would wake him every two or three hours just to change his pajamas, Ryan Clark had to wonder whether he would ever live as he once had -- and, naturally, whether he would ever play football again.

The sight of Clark at the Steelers' South Side practice facility is a welcome one these days, especially to those that visited him in the hospital last season, a group that included teammates, coaches and even team chairman Dan Rooney.

The Steelers' free safety has been taking part in the team's voluntary offseason workouts. And aside from some of the weight he still has to add after losing 30 pounds during an illness that proved to be as mysterious as it was prolonged, he doesn't seem any different to his teammates.

That Clark, 28, is back should not be a surprise considering how tightly woven perseverance is into his DNA.

This is a guy, after all, who married a girl who, well, let's just say she wasn't exactly fond of him when they first met in high school. And a guy who has carved a career in the NFL even though no team liked Clark enough to draft him in 2002 despite the fact he started 36 consecutive games at LSU.

The most recent thing he has had to overcome may be just as impressive considering Clark was so sick less than six months ago that he had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed in separate operations.

But know this about Clark, whose disarming smile belies a smoldering intensity: he is not just returning to the Steelers to serve as a feel-good story. He is returning to reclaim the starting job he beat out Anthony Smith for last summer.

"Really," said Clark, who is in his third year with the Steelers, "I have no limits on what I can do."

That is precisely why he is eyeing a return to the starting lineup.

Clark played in six games last year before two forces conspired to lay him flatter than any hit in football ever had. Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton, who has reviewed every play from 2007 (and from different angles), said Clark played "very well" before his season ended. Well enough, in fact, that the seventh-year veteran likely will be the starting free safety heading into mini-camp practices in May.

"He really did nothing to lose his job," Horton said, "other than have a freak thing happen in Denver."

"Freak thing" doesn't begin to describe what happened in Denver, not more than a couple of days after Clark's wife, Yonka, joked to him, "Hey, why don't you come back with your spleen intact this time?"

When he previously had played in Denver while with the Washington Redskins, Clark had been diagnosed with a spleen contusion following the game.

Turns out he was misdiagnosed.

And, just like in 2005, the high altitude in Denver, coupled with the sickle-cell trait that Clark has, caused his blood to sickle during the Steelers' Oct. 21 game against the Broncos.

His blood vessels burst this time, Clark said, and the resulting loss of oxygen to his spleen killed parts of it.

"Once it died," Clark said, "bacteria said, 'Hey, that's a good place to go chill.'"

Clark felt well enough after the Steelers' 31-28 loss to the Broncos to call his wife, which always has been his post-game ritual.

But Yonka Clark later got a call from one of his teammates who said Clark had to be taken off the team bus and whisked away to a hospital because he had been experiencing such discomfort.

That turned out to be only the beginning of their harrowing ordeal.

The worse Clark felt after he returned to Pittsburgh the more, it seemed, the battery of tests he took showed that nothing was wrong with him.

"I was trying to be really respectful of the doctors and the trainers, and they tell you that you're going to be OK and sometimes I was kind of made to feel like I was milking it," Clark said. "I'm sure that wasn't their intentions, but they were talking to me like 'You're really OK. I don't know why you feel like you can't do certain things.' "

In reality, the normally peppy Clark had the energy of a wilted dandelion. And the pain on the left side of his midsection became so intense at times that performing the most basic of tasks proved to be a chore.

The worst part for Clark: he couldn't play with his three young children and sometimes couldn't even be around them.

Frustrated and scared, Clark sought another opinion in the middle of November. When he told the doctor about his symptoms, Clark immediately was sent to the hospital.

He had his spleen removed after an infection was discovered -- the operation took more than four hours because his spleen was in such bad shape -- and a couple of weeks later his gall bladder came out, too.

"It was so, so stressful," Yonka Clark said of the ordeal. "I desperately wanted for him to be OK."

Clark is more than OK these days.

He resumed working out in earnest in January, and since the end of that month, he has shuttled between Pittsburgh and Arizona, where he has trained in past offseasons.

The 5-foot-11 Clark is still around 10 pounds shy of the weight he played at last season.

But, Clark said, he is at full strength and has no doubt that he'll get back to the 205-pound range the Steelers coaches want him at for the upcoming season.

Besides, after what he has endured, Clark isn't about to fret over a couple of pounds.

"I'm definitely blessed because I'm here, I'm still walking, I'm still healthy, I get to see my babies every day," Clark said. "After going through what I went through, it put into perspective that even though it's my job and millions of people watch it, football's still just a game."

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_559785.html

ShutDown24
03-30-2008, 03:58 AM
Ryan Clark should beat out Anthony Smith again this season, in my opinion. He is a smart, solid saftey who has some good years left. Plus, Smith didn't show exactly what most of us thought he would. I hope #25 is able to come back and leave no question about who our FS is.

This is just a random tidbit but I remember hearing at SVC last year [training camp] that he was trying to gain wieght then, too.

The Duke
03-30-2008, 04:02 AM
"Once it died," Clark said, "bacteria said, 'Hey, that's a good place to go chill.'"

man, I love his attitude.

just 10 pounds shy of 205? wow, this guy's a warrior, even after all he's been through he's already training. this is definitely a man with his priorities in order

great read LLT, thanks

here's hoping clark is at full health very soon :cheers: and hopefully he gets back to play free safety soon

Galax Steeler
03-30-2008, 06:28 AM
I hope the best for clark hopefully he can come back full strength and be ready for opening day.

HometownGal
03-30-2008, 06:52 AM
That is awesome news! :cheers: When Ryan went down last season, there was an enormous void to fill and I don't believe Smith filled that void. Kudos to Ryan on his determination to get healthy and back on that field - can't wait to see him at TC! :cheers:

stillers4me
03-30-2008, 07:00 AM
Every time I read a story about this guy, I get chills. We missed you, Ryan! Welcome back!

Kindjunior
03-30-2008, 08:05 AM
Classy and tough, no wonder he's a Steeler.

millwalldavey
03-30-2008, 10:12 AM
It'll be so nice to have him @ or near 100%. One of the most savvy signings of the last few years!

BettisFan
03-30-2008, 10:45 AM
Its good to hear he will be back! I will be pulling for him!

19ward86
03-30-2008, 11:04 AM
Best wishes to him, and i would like to see 2 excellent safeties in the secondary next year.

stillers4me
03-30-2008, 11:16 AM
When I think about how good we looked and played last year before our big guns starting going down one by one, I get really excited for this up coming year. We really need Ryan and Aaron Smith back. While I hope that Ryan can come back to his former level, I know that their bodies take an enormous pounding to play football. If he decides to hang it up if it's too much for him, God bless'im. He's been through enough. If he can do it, God bless'im! We need ya, Ryan!

Dynasty
03-30-2008, 12:04 PM
thanks for the read. great to hear he's doing well.

El-Gonzo Jackson
03-30-2008, 02:15 PM
Yeah, I would love to see Polamalu, Smith, Clark, Zibikowski at the safety rotation next season if he is healthy enough to come back.

Kratos
03-30-2008, 03:19 PM
It's really nice to hear he's doing well.

His first year here, I didn't think very much of his play. I think it took him a while to get acclimated.

The second year, it was night and day. I think a lot of people just expected Smith to beat him out for the FS job. The press did as well, and Clark heard all of that. He really stepped up and became a very plesant surprise.

I can't wait to see him back on the field.

Hapa
03-30-2008, 06:38 PM
man, I love his attitude.

just 10 pounds shy of 205? wow, this guy's a warrior, even after all he's been through he's already training. this is definitely a man with his priorities in order

great read LLT, thanks

here's hoping clark is at full health very soon :cheers: and hopefully he gets back to play free safety soon

I'm guessing you aren't too happy that Anthony Smith won't be starting, looking at your signature :)

The Duke
03-30-2008, 07:42 PM
I'm guessing you aren't too happy that Anthony Smith won't be starting, looking at your signature :)

oh, I love anthony and I want the best for him(even after he let us down last season), but right now after seeing how clark handled the job last year I think he's the present, anthony is the future

there will be a competition for the FS position again, and I want both of them to do their best to win it and be the best player they can. I'll root for anthony all the way, but if he fails to meet the coaches expectations I know clark will be there and do a great job.

it's not everyday someone comes back from such an injury, so it's impossible to root against someone like that. whatever happens, I'm just hoping for the best :helmet:

WWIIOwheelz
03-30-2008, 08:27 PM
Wow, what a great read. Once I heard what was going on with him last year, I didn't think he'd be back. I lost a wonderful old friend to sickle cell anemia, and I know very well how bad it can be from the things he used to tell me.

I liked the way Ryan Clark hit from the first time I saw him play for the Steelers, and this story has me pulling for him in a big way, now. Much love, Ryan! We'll see you in training camp!

Welcome To Smashmouth
03-30-2008, 09:39 PM
I think Clark can be a great addition to this team, I'm hoping to finally see McFadden and Smith starting on the RCB/Right safety slots this season, and with Clark and Carter to relieve it could be a serious year for our secondary......

Preacher
03-30-2008, 10:27 PM
Hey..

Great for him to come back from that. I love the fact that he and A. Smith are good friends as well. Smith will probably learn and mature just by watching him come back.

I also want to see Smith be able to play this fall. He will only learn by playing.

Sure is nice to hear a good story about one of our players though, isn't it?

Preacher
03-30-2008, 10:30 PM
The really bothersome part is that if left up to team doctors the guy might be dead right now. It seems team doctors are so focused on sports related injuries they miss the other stuff.

Glad to hear he is feeling better.

I wouldn't call it bothersome... it makes sense if you think about it.

They probably see what, 90 percent of injuries that are football caused, and another 8 percent are flu, colds, etc. etc.

So I can understand missing it. However I WOULD think they would be quicker to send him out for a second opinion.

SteelersMongol
03-30-2008, 10:42 PM
oh, I love anthony and I want the best for him(even after he let us down last season), but right now after seeing how clark handled the job last year I think he's the present, anthony is the future

there will be a competition for the FS position again, and I want both of them to do their best to win it and be the best player they can. I'll root for anthony all the way, but if he fails to meet the coaches expectations I know clark will be there and do a great job.

it's not everyday someone comes back from such an injury, so it's impossible to root against someone like that. whatever happens, I'm just hoping for the best :helmet:

I like the way U put it. :thumbsup: I like them both. :tt02:

Galax Steeler
03-31-2008, 03:37 AM
I like them both also like somone quoted earlier clark is now and smith is the future.