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There’s more than meets the eye with Seth Clark

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Seth Clark, left, gives instructions to the Junior Pee Wee Blue Devil squad during Wednesday’s practice at Emerson Junior High. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page B1 | October 24, 2013 |

Seth Clark took some time to sit and chat.

On this day, he was busy, but he promised to shoot the breeze with a local journalist.

Clark, 40, is working on his doctorate at UC Davis — history has always been a passion.

As a father, keeping up with his three kids often is a full-time job.

He plays baseball, was once a member of a national ski team, wrestled and ran track in high school. He loves his Dallas Cowboys (his 5-year-old daughter Landry is named for the team’s first coach, Tom Landry).

For the past 10 weeks, he’s been an assistant for his son Trajan’s Davis Junior Blue Devil football team.

Oh, one more thing …

Seth Clark has been blind since he was 13. Completely without sight.

“OK. I’ll talk about me,” Clark reluctantly tells his interviewer. “But nothing touchy-feely. I’m not that kind of blind coach.”

Blind coach? Two words that rarely wind up together in the world of sports. Somehow, Clark seamlessly puts the two together.

The 6-foot-4 Davis man has always been an imposing physical specimen. In fact, when he was in grade school, Clark was too big to play youth football.

“I was counting the days until I got to high school and could play,” he remembers.

Then one fall afternoon — watching a Cowboys-Broncos game — a friend’s carelessness changed Clark’s life.

“My folks built a weekend house outside Nevada City,” the would-be tackle continues. “There was a .38, loaded with (buck shot). We had been out shooting at birds or something earlier.”

Once inside, Clark saw his companion playing with the gun. He knew by looking at the cylinder it was still loaded:

“I could see the next time he pulled the trigger it would go off.”

It was last thing Clark ever saw.

Shot in the face with 128 shot pellets, Clark was flown by rescue helicopter to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

“There was no hope I was ever going to get my sight back,” Clark says. “They were just trying to save my life.”

During a three-month recovery, the youthful Clark — who then lived in Berkeley — reflected on his good fortune. Yes, that’s what he called it, “good fortune.”

“Luckily, there was no brain damage,” Clark explains. “And my family was there for me. Two brothers and a sister, Mom and Dad. They weren’t going to let me do anything to feel sorry for myself.

“In high school, my parents (Pendery and Joel) pushed me right away.”

He first joined a ski team for disabled athletes at Kirkwood. He began wrestling and took a swing at track and field.

“All that time I was staying up with my schoolwork and keeping my grades up, but I hated high school,” Clark admits. “People were always talking down to me: ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Need help getting there?’

“I was trying to show everybody I was still normal. Nothing had changed in me. I was still the same person. Still am that same person.”

Things got good after high school. Joel Clark was a history teacher and Seth wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps. He enrolled at UCD, where he met his current partner Cristina Gonzalez.

“He entered a crowded room, but he was tall enough that I could see how good-looking he was,” says Cris, laughing. “I didn’t see the cane or the shoulder he was guiding off of, not that it made any difference.

“Then he sat next to me and we began talking. He was so confident, open, unguarded and funny.

“What stands out now — besides his good looks — is that he listened and made me laugh.”

Clark didn’t stick with college on that first try, spending only two years at UCD.

It wasn’t until years later he returned to town and finally earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007. A master’s from San Francisco State followed and now his UCD doctorate isn’t far off. A professorship in history is the goal.

So how does this coaching thing work? Clark can’t see what he’s doing…

“It’s surprising, given his disability, he’s able to feel when players aren’t giving 100 percent,” says DJBD Junior Pee Wee head coach Paul Hasson. “He’s able to feel when players aren’t firing out off the line.

“It’s just an innate thing … he knows what to say and when to say it. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Clark caught the coaching bug while attending most of his kid’s practices last season, “watching,” as he calls it.

“I thought there were some things I could help with,” Clark explains. “I offered my services.”

Hasson was quick to accept and this fall Clark was the squad’s line coach.

But that coaching career is probably short-lived. Unless he stays with his current team (8-and-under players), Clark says the game at the higher levels moves too fast for a blind man.

And he’s fired up about his 9-year-old son Trajan’s football adventures.

Named after a Roman emperor, Trajan is the Junior Pee Wee QB.

“It’s such a neat name and has historical significance,” says the proud papa. “I’ve always joked that his begs to be chanted by 100,000 in a football stadium somewhere.”

Clark admits there are certain things he can’t do on the field.

“I do very little during the game because I can’t see what’s going on. In practice, I’m down in the trenches, holding pads for them to hit and I can tell if they’re staying low, head on the proper side of the pad.

“But there are limitations.”

Apparently not many.

Notes: Cris and Seth also have a 2-year-old son, Delany. Gonzalez is a preschool specialist in Berkeley. Last year, while the family still lived in the Bay Area, Trajan and dad would ride the train to and from football practice in Davis. … Speaking of chanting his name in a football stadium, on Saturday it may not be before 100,000, but Trajan and his pals will play at Aggie Stadium (10 a.m.). The other three DJBD squad follow at noon, 1 and 3 p.m. … Clark still plays beep-baseball for the Bayou City (Houston) Heat.

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Bruce Gallaudet

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