MARKESAN – The 2017 season was special for the Markesan prep football team.
And no one for the Hornets had a more unbelievable season than senior quarterback Carson Clark, who was 113-of-217 passing (52.1 completion percentage) for 2,445 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions while also leading the team in rushing yards (922) to go along with seven rushing touchdowns.
The Hornets were tough to beat when Clark was hot — and for a majority of the season he was, leading Markesan to its first ever WIAA Division 6 state semifinals appearance and a third-straight Trailways Large Conference title.
Because of his amazing season, he’s been chosen as the Daily Citizen’s Offensive Player of the Year.
“I think it was all the guys around me got better from last year, which is hard to believe because they were really good last year,” Clark said. “But they really stepped it up. I mean, I didn’t feel uncomfortable giving it to anybody.
“Any of the five guys that were out there, I felt comfortable giving the ball to.”
His main targets were senior receivers Drew Bernhagen (48 receptions for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs) and Austin Triggs (35 for 680 and seven TDs), who combined to catch 83 passes for 1,771 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
Receiver Zac Triggs also chipped in with 15 catches for 357 yards and six TDs.
With all that talent making up the aerial attack, it spread opposing defenses thin and allowed Clark to run wild on the ground, paving the way for him to lead Markesan in rushing.
“Most of the offense we ran last year translated into this year, but we added a jet-read play that’s really where I got most of my running yards,” Clark said. “I don’t know (how best to explain the success), it was another year of playing quarterback. My accuracy was a little better.
“My decision making was better, which has helped all around.”
His play got Hornets’ head coach Travis Winkers’ attention, too.
“He ran with more physicality or toughness,” said Winkers, Markesan’s offensive play-caller. “Sometimes it takes kids until their senior year to have that mental switch light go on.
“I see it a lot from junior to senior year.”
Indeed, but Clark also had years of experience to lean on, as he was a four-year starter this season. And having been through the fire multiple times before gave Clark a big edge on much of the competition.
It helped the Hornets’ offense as a whole, too.
“He has always been helpful with kids because he is smart and knows the offense well and this allows him to explain things to kids at practice or when they are just hanging out,” Winkers said. “In games he helps with any confusion on the field and gets kids lined up correctly.”
Starting for four seasons certainly was beneficial to Clark.
“I was able to talk to coach about different plays that he thought would work, and what we both thought would work,” Clark said of being in greater sync with Winkers on Friday nights because of his four-year experience.
All in all, Clark attributed his and his team’s success to Winkers.
“We had him for seventh grade basketball, he was our coach, and it was one of his first couple of years here in the school district,” Clark said. “It started back then. He knew what we were, and we knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from us. He knew we were a good, athletic class.”
All the hard work Winkers and this athletic senior class put in over the years came to fruition during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, with last season’s first playoff win since 2010 and three more playoff wins this season to make a run to the state semis.
Clark will now be moving on as will Bernhagen, leaving big shoes to fill.
“Drew is pretty special too and how he works so hard to make himself better in the weight room and all aspects,” Winkers said. “Drew’s leadership that young kids look up to on how to become great will be tough to replace. Drew’s been a two year captain for us where Carson is a one-year guy. Those are voted on by players.
“Carson on the field and my comfortableness (in him) as a four-year starter at quarterback will be tough to replace.”