Highlight videos of Christian Clark breaking tackles and scoring touchdowns for his high school football team can still be found on various prep websites.
But what those clips don’t show is that the star running back at Marietta (Ga.) High School was benched his senior year after starting for the varsity squad the previous two seasons.
“At that point, I wanted to quit football. Actually, I did quit,” Clark said.
Frustrated but determined, he knew his story wasn’t over. He looked everywhere for a college program that could use a running back. The only one that came knocking was SC Faith A&M, a startup junior college program in North Charleston.
Clark, 20, made the move to the Lowcountry over the summer. On Sunday he’ll play for a Big Coast Conference title with the Ragin’ Bulls.
“I just feel lucky I found them,” Clark said. “I needed that second chance, and this type of school is perfect for guys like me who may have been overlooked.”
Offering second chances was a key reason Urie Smalls launched SC Faith A&M in 2015. A Burke High graduate who spent 17 years with the Charleston Police Department, Smalls’ life work has been helping kids and young adults find positive outlets.
SC Faith focuses on sports and music while offering courses through a partnership with Trident Technical College so students can work toward an associate’s degree.
Ultimately, Smalls said, the goal is for students to improve their grades so they can transfer to four-year colleges.
“A lot of folks didn’t understand what the relationship would be with a community college and sports,” he said. “So we had to kind of test the market here and make sure it would make sense for us to do it.”
So far, so good. The school began its sports and music programs in 2016, but wanted to stay underground as it continued building the brand.
After finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding with Trident Technical College earlier this year, the Christian-based school was ready to expand.
“In those early conversations, it just seemed like a good partnership that would be beneficial to everyone,” said David Hanson, a spokesperson for Trident. “SC Faith is able to provide academics to its students and we’re continuing our mission of providing an opportunity to any students looking to further their education.”
SC Faith offers football, men’s and women’s basketball, track and baseball, along with cheerleading, marching band, and chorus. To play a sport or participate in the music program, a student must be enrolled at Trident Tech and maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Students come from inside and outside South Carolina, but helping Lowcountry residents is the primary focus of the program. One local student, E.J. Gathers, played football at Garrett Academy and is the Ragin' Bulls quarterback.
“When Division I and Division II recruiters start making their rounds, they want to see official junior colleges with accreditation and proper backing,” Smalls said. “Our partnership with Trident gives us that.”
That partnership and the school's goal are what inspired Andy Woolcock to accept the job as head football coach. A former strong safety at Timberland High School and later at Greensboro (N.C.) College, Woolcock believes in Smalls’ philosophy of giving back.
He's building a program from the ground, using various fields in North Charleston for practices and playing games at Garrett Academy until the school can secure its own facilities.
“Giving these kids a chance when they may have been overlooked in high school, that’s important to me,” Woolcock said.
To date about 100 Trident Tech students are involved in athletics or participating in the music program at SC Faith. And the school is already boasting success stories.
Goose Creek native Allen Robinson played basketball last season for the Ragin’ Bulls and has transferred to Madison College in Wisconsin.
Clark is mulling offers from Tennessee State, Bethune Cookman, Grambling University and Alabama A&M.
He expects to make a decision in time to start classes in the spring. For now his focus is the championship game Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Georgia Knights in Snellville, Ga.
Clark said a victory on Sunday would be a great way for the team to show its appreciation for what Smalls and Woolcock are doing.
“They gave me a chance when no one else would,” Clark said. "So I’m going to always thank God for that.”