Clark, Keltner expect more teammates to sign with major colleges

Centennial football seniors Kieran Clark, left, and Carson Keltner sign national letters of intent to play college football for Nevada and Air Force, respectively. The ceremony was Dec. 19 in the library of the Peoria high school. [Courtesy Coach Ian Comes' Twitter]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

A breakout spring track season and summer camp at ASU led to a month that changed the trajectory of Kieran Clark’s football career — not to mention his educational opportunities.

The Centennial senior cornerback had the game and the grades for major schools, but a dramatic drop in his 100-meter time and talent in 7-on-7 drills opened the floodgates for NCAA Division I football offers. In the span of a month he received offers from Hawaii, NAU, Nevada, South Dakota State and Wyoming — a month later in July, BYU jumped on board.

“When he ran a 10.8 100 meters electronic, I think that is what solidified him,” Centennial football coach Richard Taylor said. “That was impressive to a lot of recruiters.”

Early on, Clark said he made the best connection with Nevada. His only official visit was to the school’s Reno campus.

On early signing day Dec. 19, he made that commitment to the Wolfpack official. He announced his verbal commitment on Twitter Dec. 13 and signed in a ceremony at the Peoria high school along with teammate Carson Keltner — a senior center who made his October verbal commitment to the Air Force Academy official.

“I always felt special about Nevada. It felt like home when I visited. I just visited there,” Clark said.

The future Mountain West Conference foes were two members of a senior leadership core that powered the Coyotes to an overwhelming 14-0 season and fourth state title in five years.

Clark said he plans to major in political science and minor in criminal justice. Keltner said a number of business-related fields interest him.

“To give this gift to your families is really something and I know how much they appreciate that. Both of you are going to have outstanding careers. Both captains, both leaders, both outstanding students and both great football players that are going to go on to do great things,” Taylor said during the signing day event.

Keltner was the latest in a line of Coyote offensive linemen to sign with name-brand programs.

In his career, he has seen older teammates Steven Bailey (NAU, now at Arizona), Tanner Hawthorne (Purdue, now at Southern Mississippi) and Marshal Nathe (ASU) sign.

“I’ve seen other guys do it and this was a day I’d been dreaming of,” Keltner said.

While Keltner was locked in early, Clark was ascendant in the offseason and played up to his press clippings.

Last year he was in the considerable shadow of cornerback Dominique Hampton, who signed with Washington.

“He did outstanding, always up against the best receivers and he saw some good ones. He was always well prepared and I think he’s going to be very successful in college,” Taylor said.

Playing with several fellow seniors who only landed on the college recruiting radar after their senior season started, Clark realizes how fortunate he was to receive offers during the spring.

In the last two years, the earlier December signing day has accelerated the recruiting cycle for the Power 5 conference schools — teams in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — and even other Division I leagues like the Mountain West are getting into the act. Therefore, most of the plum scholarships are offered and snapped up by December.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity. There’s not a lot of kids that have it,” Clark said.

Primarily, Clark said he is thinking about his senior teammates. He thinks several Centennial players should join he and Keltner in major college football.

While several Coyotes are cleaning up with offers from smaller college programs, only Tawee Walker received a Division I offer in the last two months. Taylor said Walker has made a verbal commitment to that school — Wagner College in New York City.

“I think they’re going to get offers, as long as they keep working,” Clark said.

Even though Centennial lost to Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic in the GEICO Bowl on Dec. 22, the game provided a national television spotlight for Coyotes seniors. Recruiters blanketed the game, since the Crusaders have two major college commitments for their seniors and an absolutely loaded class of 2020 featuring a receiver headed to Ohio State, a tight end with an offer from Alabama, a cornerback targeted by USC and a Texas A&M hopeful tailback and son of a three-time Pro Bowler.

Two extra weeks of practice allowed Division I schools like Idaho to visit and check out the team in practices.

And some scholarships are still available for the more traditional February signing period — and beyond. After all, 2017 Centennial quarterback Ruben Beltran committed to Division I school Montana State on June 13, 2018.

“It’s going to be a nationally televised game and they’re going to see how many of our guys are ballers. These guys should be on the podium signing early. They really shouldn’t be waiting until February. I’m excited and hopefully seven or eight more guys are signing in February,” Keltner said.

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