Coming in second place was not good enough for Carson Clark.
Despite doing his fair share to help Fort Wayne Bishop Luers to a Class 2A state runner-up finish last fall, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior quarterback still was not satisfied.
"I made sure to start working harder as soon as our 2020 football season came to an end," recalled Clark, who was 17-of-21 for 303 yards with three touchdowns in the 36-35 loss to Western Boone in the state finals. "It was very hard to lose state on a last second field goal, but I just used that as motivation to work harder.
"I really worked on getting my arm strength up. My junior season, I was pretty accurate with the ball, but I couldn't fit it into the tight windows that I wanted to yet, like throwing a 35-yard bullet down field. Overall, I wanted to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and I am still working on these things."
Since getting a chance to compete as a sophomore (48-of-107 for 578 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions) on a squad which finished 3-8, things have progressed very well for Clark and the Class 2A top-ranked Knights (8-1).
Following a 2020 campaign in which he was 242-of-391 (62 percent) for 3,592 yards with 38 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, he has so completed 144-of-219 (66 percent) passes for 2,242 yards with 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this fall.
"I am most happy about how we have had less turnovers," said Clark. "I threw a pick almost every game in the regular season last year, but now I am starting to be smarter with the ball. Right now, I have four picks, which is unacceptable. I need to keep working on it, but it is an improvement."
Last year's impressive performance earned Clark plenty of recognition, including a spot on the 2021 Indiana Football Digest's Prime Time 25 list.
"It feels great to be selected as one of the athletes to be on the cover of this magazine," Clark said. "I've known some people that have been on it that were great players and people. It is an honor to be considered one of Indiana's best football players."
An all-state and state championship winning signal caller in his playing days for the Knights, Kyle Lindsay is impressed with the progress Clark has made.
"In my 14 years coaching the game, I have not had a player more dedicated to improving himself than Carson Clark," said Lindsay, now in his ninth season in charge. "From the moment he entered the program, he's tried to pick the brains of nearly every single coach on staff to learn more about the game. Whether it's for the purpose of learning scheme, where to go with the ball, improving his fundamentals, gaining strength, or developing more of his leadership skills, there has not been a day off in Carson's life from self-improvement.
"This mindset has led to a drastic improvement in everything he brings to the table as a football player. On top of his athletic achievements and records, he's become the leader of a team full of leaders. I'm so proud of Carson's accomplishments and very much look forward to witnessing his growth from where he stands today."
Clark echoes the strong bond that has developed between himself and Lindsay.
"Coach Kyle has been a great help to me in developing me into a quarterback," Clark said "We have built a strong relationship ever since my sophomore year at Luers. I love to just sit down with him and talk ball sometimes. Overall, our team loves him, even outside of football."
Another connection Clark has both an and off the gridiron is with fellow senior wide out Brody Glenn, who has hauled in 45 passes for 866 yards with 14 touchdowns.
"Brody has been my best friend since our sophomore year," explained Clark. "He is honestly one of the hardest workers I know when it comes to football. In a critical moment in a game, I can just look at him in the eye and know what he is going to do. This comes from all the hard work we put in the off-season.
"Before our junior season, around May 2020, we would go to a field almost every day for about two hours and work on routes. The best attribute he has is that he can get separation. He is only getting better every day and some college will be getting a great player and person."
Although the Knights finished 8-7 a year ago, Clark wasn't surprised they found their way to Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Last year was a development year for us," Clark said. "We all knew we had the tools to compete against the teams in the SAC (Summit Athletic) conference, but we weren't big enough physically to do so yet. Also, that whole season, we formed a brotherhood that is unbreakable now. We all know what type of player each one of is and have a lot of chemistry. All the work we put into the off-season made us a lot better also."
The fact they are now the team with the target on their back appears to be no big deal for Clark and company.
"It feels good to be ranked number one, but it doesn't matter when you keep getting better every single day," Clark added. "We don't feel any pressure as a team. Our coaches make sure that we get everything down in practice so we aren't worried about anything on game day.
Although the Knights missed out on a chance to claim an outright SAC crown with a 27-15 loss to No.4 (Class 5A) Fort Wayne Snider, they now turn their focus on defending their Class 2A Sectional 35 title against visiting Fairfield (4-5) on October 22.
"We want to prove everybody wrong," Clark said. "A lot of people like to say how small we are and how we can't compete with Class 6A and Class 5A schools. We are starting to prove to people that we can do that, but we need to keep doing that every game of our season."