State College’s Keaton Ellis smiled as he pressed his right hand against Brandon Clark’s to illustrate the size of his teammate’s hands.
Ellis, a defensive back, recalls first noticing Clark’s hands last season as the Little Lions’ wide receiver routinely made one-handed catches. Clark hauled in passes with ease, and Ellis quickly realized his teammate was the “real deal.” Ellis called for his teammate to show off his hands during media day Wednesday at Memorial Field.
“His hands are huge,” Ellis said. “He catches everything.”
The Little Lions will be relying on Clark’s hands this season as the team’s top returning wide receiver. Clark finished second on the team with 32 catches for 396 yards and six touchdowns in 2016, and coach Matt Lintal plans to find as many ways as possible to get the ball into those big hands this fall.
With Clark’s size, leaping ability and athleticism, the Little Lions have utilized him at H-back and punter, safety and defensive end. Clark has even taken repetitions at quarterback — Lintal said Clark probably throws the ball farther than anyone on the team and often chucks passes as far as he can at practices.
“You rarely see him without a ball in his hand,” Lintal said. “He’s just one of those kids that, we’ll take a break at practice, and he’s out throwing a football. He doesn’t sit down. He’s out playing. He’s just nonstop with a ball in his hands, and he loves the game.”
But it’s at receiver where Clark shines. Lintal looked down at his own hands and estimated Clark’s fingers are two inches longer as he talked about the receiver. Clark’s fingers ran well past Ellis’ when they compared their hands, demonstrating one reason why the senior has thrived at the position.
Clark looks up to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who made an unforgettable one-handed grab during his rookie season against the Dallas Cowboys on his way to becoming a star in the NFL.
“I would like to be like him with his hands,” Clark said.
Clark has already turned in his own one-handed highlights, at practices and games. And he’s earned high praise from those around him.
“He’s a dynamic athlete that has the best ball skills I’ve ever coached at the college level or high school level,” said Lintal, who also oversaw FCS program Bucknell. “Hands down. Elite-level ball skills.”
That includes former Bucknell wide receiver Shaun Pasternak, who set single-season program records in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2008 under Lintal. Pasternak boasted similar skills, but Lintal said Clark has “the most elite hands I’ve ever been around.”
With those hands, Clark proved to be a playmaker in the red zone last season. The Little Lions looked his way often, lobbing passes to the corner of the end zone and watching him outjump the defensive back for touchdowns. In one-on-one matchups, Lintal said Clark wins the battle more often than not. That’s why he could see time at H-back again this year as a way to create mismatches with a linebacker or safety covering the Little Lions’ most dangerous receiver.
Ellis knows how challenging it can be to cover Clark from their battles at practice.
“He has the size, but I have the speed,” said Ellis, who received an offer from Penn State this summer. “It’s good competition. We both enjoy it. We have fun. We both get better from it.”
Clark spent the offseason focused on his speed and footwork — timing his efforts running through the “Ickey shuffle” and hopscotch drills on the agility ladder — as he prepares to take over for Noah Woods as State College’s top target.
Woods burned opposing defenses with his speed during his senior season in 2016, leading the team with 37 catches for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn all-state honors.
Now, Clark is looking forward to being State College’s go-to receiver.
“We had a fantastic wide receiver, Noah Woods,” Clark said. “He got the ball most of the time. Hopefully, I get it more this year.”