One of the coolest things to see during the college football offseason is a coach awarding a scholarship to a walk-on. The YouTube videos and the happiness surrounding the situation can make nearly anyone smile. But what happens when that relationship dissolves and the player that works so hard for that scholarship has it taken away after only one season?
That is the case of former Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders kicker Cody Clark.
Two weeks ago, I was looking at the five position battles that would determine how the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders would fare in the 2016 season. One thing that immediately stood out was the lack of three-year starting placekicker Cody Clark on the 2016 roster. Clark, originally a walk-on to the program and the primary field goal kicker for the last three seasons, was just gone from the roster with no statement and one year of eligibility remaining.
MTSU student newspaper Sidelines reported earlier today that the kicker left the team due in part to a strained relationship with head coach Rick Stockstill.
After joining the program and connecting on 12 of his first 16 field goal attempts during his redshirt freshman season, the rising sophomore was given a scholarship by the coaching staff for the 2014 season. It was the happiest day of his life as he stated on multiple occasions. All of his hard work had paid off and he would have a full ride moving forward to kick.
In 2014, the Georgia native saw action in all 12 games. He was successful on nine of his 15 attempts and all 46 of his extra point attempts. Hindsight being 20/20, the beginnings of a fractured relationship between Clark and the Blue Raiders coaching staff were already evident.
One of the biggest warning signs during the 2014 season Clark missing his final four field goal attempts of the season, spanning the final five games of the year. The coaching staff may have lost a bit of faith that Clark could get the job done during that final portion of the season.
This is where things devolve into multiple points of contention. Clark, a scholarship athlete for the 2014 season, claims that he was told just before the beginning of the 2015 season that he would no longer be on scholarship.
His belief is that he was blindsided by the fact and told of the situation so close to the beginning of the season so that he would be forced to stay with the team if he wanted to kick in 2015. Otherwise, he would have entertained transferring to another program.
Stockstill claims that the Blue Raiders were much less sinister and secretive about the entire process. He claims that Clark knew that he would only get another scholarship in 2015 if there was one available. Furthermore, he claims that during the process, he kept Clark aware and notified the kicker that a scholarship may not and eventually would not be available for the upcoming season.
The idea of year to year scholarships can be a tricky process with staffs forced to juggle scholarships and find room to bring in new recruiting classes every season. Add in the fact that he was a walk-on that earned a scholarship only to have it taken away after one single season and there is a definite cause for concern.
An extremely unhappy marriage between player and coach occurred throughout the 2015 season, a season that Clark continued to handle kicking duties. Another dust up between player and coach occurred after a close loss at Illinois.
After the game, a 27-25 loss that saw Clark miss a 43-yard kick to win as time expired, Stockstill seemed to have no faith in the kicker. He was quoted in the post-game press conference in response to how confident he was that Clark would make the 43-yard kick.
"Not really. I mean we've been inconsistent this whole year," he said. "I'm not going to lie to you and say I thought it was he was going to make it."
While Stockstill played damage control and later clarified that he was specifically talking about kicks beyond 30 yards, admitting to the media that he had no faith in Clark is a tough thing to say about one of his players.
Despite the distraction, Clark ended the season connecting on 12 of 16 field goal attempts and 56-56 on extra point attempts.
With the 2015 season in the rearview mirror, Clark spoke with the coaching staff about his future soon after the Bahamas Bowl and decided that he no longer wanted to be part of the program. He was quickly and quietly removed from the roster for the 2016 season.
The Blue Raiders have moved on from Clark, signing local kicker Crews Holt to a full scholarship. Clark is weighing his options moving forward and preparing to graduate from Middle Tennessee, while also weighing an option to kick for The Citadel in 2016 as a graduate transfer.