BELLVILLE — A cloud of dust hangs over the practice field on the hill behind Clear Fork High School as the late-September sun blazes overhead.
Practice has just ended and judging by the dirty fingerprints blanketing Zac Clark’s black sleeveless shirt, it was an intense and physical workout.
Barrel-chested with thick arms and powerful legs, Clark looks exactly like a left guard ought to look — albeit an undersized left guard. The sophomore is listed on Clear Fork’s roster at 5-foot-9 and 225 pounds.
Nevertheless, quarterback Brennan South is glad to have Clark watching over his blind side.
“If Zac can protect a person from a near-death experience,” South says, “I have no doubt he can protect me just fine.”
By now everyone in the Clear Fork Valley has heard of Clark’s heroics. Word of it spread like wildfire over the weekend and, once regional and national media caught wind of it, Clark went viral.
But Zac Clark insists he’s not a hero. The way he sees it, anyone in his position would have done the same thing.
“At least I hope so,” says Clark, his battled-scarred helmet perched atop a tuft of wavy brown hair. “I was taught to help people out the best I can, no matter what the situation.”
Clark was working in the yard with his mother, Lora, still basking in the glow of Clear Fork’s come-from-behind victory over Bellevue the night before, when he heard a loud noise and screams coming from a neighbor’s house.
“I noticed earlier that my neighbor was out there working underneath his car. A few minutes later, I heard a loud bang and the first thing that came to mind was to run over there,” Clark says. “I got there and it looked like he was struggling.”
The jack holding the neighbor’s Volkswagen Passat off the ground had failed, pinning the 39-year-old man beneath the car. The vehicle, which weighs in excess of 3,000 pounds, was crushing the man’s upper body.
“The first thing that came to mind was, ‘I’ve got to get the car off of him,’ ” Clark says. “So I just got underneath it the best I could and started lifting.”
Grabbing hold of the vehicle’s undercarriage, Clark heaved with everything he had and, miraculously, lifted the car just enough for his mother and the pinned neighbor’s wife to pull the man from beneath the vehicle.
“I could in Zac's eyes the determination, that he was going to get this car up,” his mother says.
The strength which Clark summoned, the type of strength that allows human beings to do seemingly super-human things, is called hysterical strength and precious little is known about the phenomena. That’s because scientists can’t ethically put test subjects in life-threatening situations in order to measure how the body responds.
Nonetheless, there have been several documented cases in which a person has somehow tapped into a reserve of strength that, under normal circumstances, lies dormant in the body.
Clark was able to awaken that hysterical strength, but by his own account he was anything but hysterical.
“I was able to remain pretty calm considering the circumstances,” Clark says. “I was just trying to help somebody out and be a good person and I just thank God for putting me in that position and giving me the strength to save a man’s life.”
A Helping Hand
Clark said the technique used to lift the vehicle off his neighbor’s chest was most akin to a deadlift. His build lends itself well to that type of lifting, says Clear Fork football coach Dave Carroll, who moonlights as the strength and conditioning coach.
“He’s built for that kind of lifting, getting down and getting under something,” Caroll says, “He’s only a sophomore. He’s young in terms of strength development. A lot of kids don’t hit their stride until their junior or senior year, especially with upper-body strength.”
Clark, who also wrestles and is a catcher on the baseball team (older brother, Luke, was a standout catcher for Clear Fork’s state-qualifying baseball teams in 2016 and 2017) began weightlifting with his father, Rodney, before his high school career began.
Rodney Clark, who began working for the Richland County Sheriff’s Office in 1997, died unexpectedly the summer before Zac’s freshman year. The Richland County jail visitation center was named the Rodney Clark Visitation Center during a ceremony in January of 2019.
“Every once in a while (the memories) come back and I get sad,” Clark says. “I was definitely thinking about my father when I was lifting that car. My neighbor has a son who goes to Clear Fork and I didn’t want him to have to go through what I went through.”
Carroll wasn’t surprised to hear those words.
“Zac’s a big kid and he’s got a heart to match,” Carroll says. “He said in an interview the other day that all he thought of when he went over to lift the car off the guy was this guy is going to live and be there for his kids. I had tears coming down my cheeks.
“That’s pretty heady stuff for a 16-year-old kid, but that’s the type of kid he is.”
Clark’s mother can’t help but think Zac had a little help on that fateful day.
“I think he definitely had angels with him,” Lora says.
Pride of the Valley
Despite his sudden fame, Clark has kept his focus on the team. The Colts are 3-2 after last week’s loss to River Valley. Clear Fork visits undefeated Galion in a key Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference game Friday.
“Zac has been nothing but humble and focused through all of this, no big head from him and no lack of focus during practice,” says South, Clear Fork’s quarterback. “That shows you the man of character he really is.
“The whole (Clear Fork) Valley is very proud of what he did and that’s something that will stick with him the rest of his life.”