Polk preps for starting role
With Yvenson Bernard hobbling Saturday, JC transfer may start against USC
CORVALLIS - Clinton Polk doesn't expect to play Lou Gehrig to Yvenson Bernard's Wally Pipp. But the junior from Phoenix intends to make the most of what could be his first career start Saturday when Oregon State takes on third-ranked Southern Cal at Reser Stadium.
'I'm feeling pretty confident,' says Polk, who transferred to Oregon State from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College last winter. 'Everybody is cheering me along and telling me to get ready, just in case.'
Bernard sprained an ankle in the fourth quarter of OSU's 17-10 win at Arizona last Saturday, and coach Mike Riley labels him as doubtful to face the Trojans. Bernard's absence would leave the starting tailback job to Polk, who has carried 29 times for 112 yards and one touchdown this season.
In his first rushing attempt after replacing Bernard, Polk was met head-on by Arizona linebacker Spencer Larsen and fumbled. In his final series, with the Beavers clinging to a lead, Polk was more productive.
'I liked the way he ran tough,' Riley says. 'He didn't gain a lot of yards, but he ran hard, and he hung on to the ball.'
Polk originally was signed to a letter of intent by OSU coach Dennis Erickson as a highly recruited prep back in 2003. Polk turned down offers from Miami, Nebraska, Arizona State and Arizona, but he didn't qualify academically and wound up at Scottsdale for two seasons. Last February, he again signed with OSU.
'They stuck with me,' says Polk, who narrowed down his choices to New Mexico and OSU. 'I knew a lot about the campus and the program. It just seemed like the best fit.'
Polk was impressive in spring practice and in August training camp and beat out sophomore holdover Patrick Fuller for the backup job. Bernard's presence has limited Polk's on-field time this fall, but he isn't complaining.
'It's been tough,' Polk admits. 'You always want to play. I just have to keep my head up and learn. Yvenson is experienced and a heck of a running back, and I've learned by watching him.'
The 5-9, 205-pound Bernard is the Pac-10's second-best tailback behind California All-American Marshawn Lunch. Bernard can wiggle through a sidewalk crack. The 6-2, 215-pound Polk is a runner of a different ilk.
'Ev is shifty and quick,' Polk says. 'The things he does, he's just blessed with - you can't teach those things. I'm more of a get-the-ball-and-go type of back, more of a downhill runner, a pounder.'
Polk has greater breakaway speed than Bernard - 'Clinton is faster around the edge,' Riley says - and the Beavers hope to get him in a position to do some damage against a Southern Cal team that leads the conference in scoring defense (15.0 points) and is third in rushing defense (100.2 yards).
'I told Clinton he has one job this week - follow the offensive line,' junior offensive guard Roy Schuening says. 'If he does that, he should get quite a few yards rushing on Saturday.'