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Clark excels on both sides of the ball for playoff-bound Scorpions

North Brunswick’s Randy Clark closes in from his linebacker position on South Columbus running back Troy Nye in a game earlier this season. StarNews file photo

LELAND | There were times earlier this football season when North Brunswick senior Randy Clark wasn’t sure he wanted to be a quarterback.

Clark, a former tight end, enjoyed the rush of leading the offensive huddle, but when the defense took the field and left him on the sideline, he longed for his familiar linebacker position.

“You want to play every play for your team,” said Clark, the team’s leading tackler in 2012. “Then you start to kind of realize you can’t do it.”

North Brunswick has leaned on the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Clark in a variety of roles this season, and he has learned to balance his many responsibilities more effectively. He has lined up at quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, safety and punter at various times this year.

While coach Garry Bishop has been mindful not to overtax Clark, the eighth-seeded Scorpions (8-3) plan to feature him prominently on both sides of the ball when they host No. 9 Randleman (8-3) Friday in a 2AA first-round playoff game.

“We’ll start him both ways and see what he can do,” Bishop said. “We’ve got to get our best players on the field. It’s nitty-gritty time.”

Although Clark hadn’t played quarterback since Pop Warner, Bishop had considered giving him an audition as early as last fall on the advice of his brother Chuck, the team’s offensive coordinator.

The coach believed the strong-armed Clark had the skill set for the job, but North Brunswick already had two capable signal callers in Jacob Shumate and Emel Tilman. The team needed Clark in his other roles.

Clark got his first chance under center this summer, almost by necessity in voluntary workouts. By the time preseason camp started, he was No. 3 on the tentative depth chart behind Tilman and junior Shelton Perkins.

While Clark expected a move back to tight end, Bishop saw the potential for an expanded role.

“I thought he fit right in,” Bishop said. “The first day he looked like he had played it before. We knew with a little work, he’d have a chance to be pretty good.”

Injuries have shaken up North Brunswick’s plans this season, changing Clark’s role from week to week. Early on, he was the only healthy quarterback and played fewer defensive stats to avoid injury.

Recently, he has split offensive reps with Perkins, an East Carolina baseball recruit who led the junior varsity football team to an undefeated record a year ago. Clark also missed two games after a concussion.

From the season-opening win against Whiteville, Clark showed an ability to pass deep, often hooking up with his former Pop Warner teammate Kevon Perkins. He’s improved his reads in the option running game and become more comfortable keeping it himself to pick up tough yards on the ground.

“If I’m open, he’s looking for me,” said Perkins, who has six touchdowns in eight games. “He gives you a chance to make a play.”

Clark’s stats reflect his improved command of the offense. He has completed 64 of 120 passes for 1,173 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s added 362 rushing yards and nine more scores.

In limited defensive action, the linebacker has also recorded 30 tackles with two sacks, both on the same drive in a Nov. 1 loss to Northside. He hopes to continue his career at the next level, likely playing defense at a Division II or III school.

During Tuesday’s offense-focused practice, Clark took turns with Perkins at quarterback and rotated in at wide receiver. Darkness had swallowed the North Brunswick practice field by the time Bishop finished his post-session remarks.

Clark gingerly popped to his feet when the meeting finished and complained to no one in particular about the mountain of homework he had coming.

“It’s exhausting,” he said later. “You’ve got to work hard in practice to get in better shape to be able to run both ways. It’s worth it, though.”