NEW CHAPEL HILL -- It was late September and Chapel Hill senior Joseph Clark was doing what he loved, what he was born to do: playing out his final year of high school football with bigger and better things on the horizon.

Then, it was suddenly all in doubt.

Clark, a two-way standout best known for his punishing hits on the defensive side of the ball, suffered a gruesome and debilitating injury during the Bulldogs' District 16-3A opener at Henderson.

Chapel Hill's Wesley Thompson signs with ULM on Wednesday. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

"I tore my ACL, my MCL, my PCL," Clark said. "My meniscus came off the bone and my hamstring came off the bone, and I messed up my nerves."

Clark committed to Texas Tech over the summer, but because of the severity of the injury, there were no guarantees major college football would still be a possibility. But yet, there he was, joined by dozens of family members, friends and coaches as he made good on his commitment to the Red Raiders -- just as they had done with him.

"I'm just real humbled; I know I'm blessed," Clark said during Chapel Hill's National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday morning in the school's library. "I'm just real thankful they stuck with me throughout the injury and everything. I talked to (the Texas Tech coaches) and they all told me the same thing: do my rehab and I'll come back stronger than ever."

Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton got emotional when introducing Clark, a three-year starter, in front of the gathered crowd.

"I'm so honored to be around those guys at Texas Tech," Sitton told ETSN.fm following the ceremony. "I don't think every college in the nation would've held up on their end of the bargain. They truly believe in Joseph and they're great folks. I really know that he's going to have a great time once he gets out there."

Chapel Hill's Keith Minor signed with Cincinnati on Wednesday. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The nature of Clark's injury requires two separate surgeries, one of which has already taken place. He said he will go to the doctor next Wednesday when he expects to learn when the second surgery will take place. Clark added that six more months of recovery time will be required, post-procedure.

"There were some days where I just wanted to give up," Clark said. "But there was nothing I could do about it; it is what it is and I'll I can do is get through it. The fact that I'm not doing this for me … I've got to do this for everybody else -- my little brother, my teammates, my mom, my coaches, my town, my school. It's not just for me."

Clark admitted that being around the team after the injury became especially difficult.

"It got hard at times because sometimes I couldn't be around without getting emotional," he said. "I made sure I watched every game, though. I just tried to keep the young DBs' heads up; we had a lot of young DBs this year and they'd never played on varsity."

Clark (5-9, 175) said that once he's fully recovered, the plan at Texas Tech is for him to start out at cornerback after developing a reputation as being one of the most physical linebacker-safety combos in East Texas. That would put him on the side opposite of Whitehouse quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who also signed with Texas Tech on Wednesday.

Chapel Hill's Andrew Black signs with Henderson State on Wednesday. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

"Me and Pat, we've got a little rivalry with him coming from Whitehouse," Clark said jokingly. "So that's going to be interesting. I'll have to sack him one day at practice."

Even though Clark is traveling to the other side of the state, he acknowledged what his time at Chapel Hill has meant to him.

"It's a special place," he said of Chapel Hill. "All the coaches, they're all good men, they all care about us and they all want us to be good in everything. That's what I really look forward to at Tech. That's why I love them so much."

Also taking part in the National Signing Day festivities at Chapel Hill were defensive linemen Keith Minor and Shaquille Warren, athlete Wesley Thompson and quarterback Andrew Black.

Minor (6-4, 240) chose to sign with Cincinnati after initially committing to New Mexico two weeks ago after an official visit. The Bearcats were the first to offer Minor.

"It's a dream come true," Minor said. "I've been looking forward to this ever since I was a young kid, since the playground days. These last few days have been very stressful for me, and to get this out of the way I'm just happy to do it."

Chapel Hill's Shaquille Warren signs with ULM on Wednesday. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The distance and local climate of Cincinnati weren't enough to deter Minor from heading north.

"It'll take some getting used to, but I'm pretty sure I'll get used to it after I'm out there a while," he said. "I just felt at home; good coaching staff and that's where I want to play my college ball. They were my first offer."

Warren, who started on both the offensive and defensive lines this past season, will get the chance to play defensive end full-time at ULM. He finished 2013 with 69 tackles, 15 for loss and a team-high seven sacks.

Thompson, a three-year starter and another ULM signee, played both running back and linebacker as a senior. He could serve a variety of roles for the Warhawks at the next level.

Black, who signed with Division II Henderson State, had a monster 2013 season, totaling more than 4,000 total yards and 49 touchdowns in leading Chapel Hill to a 9-5 record and a berth in the Class 3A Division I state quarterfinals.

Chapel Hill had five football players sign letters of intent on Wednesday as part of National Signing Day. They were (from left): Andrew Black (Henderson State), Joseph Clark (Texas Tech), Shaquille Warren (ULM), Wesley Thompson (ULM) and Keith Minor (Cincinnati). (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Chapel Hill's 2014 College Football Signees

Andrew Black

  • School: Henderson State
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 180
  • 2013 passing stats: 192 of 347, 2,817 yards, 29 TDs, 13 INTs
  • 2013 rushing stats: 154 carries, 1,303 yards, 20 TDs
  • 2013 accolades: ETSN.fm Super Team second-team selection, District 16-3A Co-Offensive MVP
  • Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton on Black: "Andrew Black's one of the toughest competitors I've ever been around. You knew on Friday night that he was going to give everything that he had. His athletic ability was unbelievable -- his ability to run it, throw it and catch it. I think he's going to be real special at Henderson State."

 

Joseph Clark

  • School: Texas Tech
  • Position: Running back/middle linebacker/defensive back
  • Height: 5-9
  • Weight: 175
  • 2013 offensive stats (5 games): 41 carries, 331 yards, 4 TDs
  • 2013 defensive stats (5 games): 48 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries
  • Sitton on Clark: "He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He played full speed, full tilt all the time. He left his body for his teammates, just a great example of how to play hard and how to be tough. I think he set a great example for all the other guys in our program with the physicalness that we brought day-in and day-out. It made you proud as a coach to have a guy play it that way."

 

Keith Minor

  • School: Cincinnati
  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight: 240
  • 2013 stats: 123 tackles, 12 for loss, 4 sacks, 9 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries
  • 2013 accolades: ETSN.fm Super Team second-team selection, District 16-3A first-team selection
  • Sitton on Minor: "Keith Minor is a big D-lineman type. I think he's got the ability to get even bigger. His effort and work ethic and toughness out on the football field every Friday night was something that we're really going to miss."

 

Wesley Thompson

  • School: Louisiana-Monroe
  • Position: Athlete
  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 185
  • 2013 offensive stats: 136 carries, 1,025 yards, 12 TDs
  • 2013 defensive stats: 90 tackles, 10 for loss, 3 pass break-ups
  • 2013 accolades: ETSN.fm Super Team third-team selection, District 16-3A first-team selection
  • Sitton on Thompson: "Wesley Thompson helped us so much on both sides of the ball -- great running back and great linebacker. He gave everything he had for his teammates, a very unselfish person and his character is unbelievable. I think he's going to do some great things there at Louisiana-Monroe."

 

Shaquille Warren

  • School: Louisiana-Monroe
  • Position: Defensive end
  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight: 230
  • 2013 stats: 69 tackles, 15 for loss, 7 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
  • 2013 accolades: ETSN.fm Super Team honorable mention selection, District 16-3A first-team selection
  • Sitton on Warren: "Shaquille Warren may have the biggest upside of all of them because his opportunity to play defense was really just one year. I think he's going to be a great player. He's got a very high motor, he's a great kid, he works extremely hard. I'm so glad (Thompson and Warren) are having the chance to go play together."

 

Chapel Hill players (from left) Andrew Black, Joseph Clark, Shaquille Warren, Wesley Thompson and Keith Minor pose for pictures during their National Signing Day ceremony at the high school library on Wednesday. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)