GREEN BAY – The text was waiting in Kenny Clark’s cell phone the moment he boarded his plane headed to Green Bay.
It was a long message from his mother, Leslie, congratulating Clark on being the Packers’ first-round pick, expressing how much she loves him and reminding her son to “do what he’s always done.”
Clark has been through a lot with his mom and three siblings over the past 12 years. Together, the family has dealt with the absence of his father for the past 11 years and the challenges of growing up in San Bernardino, Calif.
When the Packers selected the 6-foot-3, 314-pound defensive tackle with the 27th overall pick a week ago, it was the culmination of more than a decade of sacrifice for Kenny and his mom.
“My mom is a warrior,” said Clark after the first practice of rookie orientation on Friday. “She’s a tough woman. She did a good job of raising me and my brothers, and sisters.”
Clark and his three siblings have been through a lot of ups and downs over the last decade. Since he was 9, Clark’s father and namesake has been incarcerated on a second-degree murder conviction in California. He’s currently serving a minimum sentence of 55 years, though he’s working on another appeal.
Father and son remain close despite the circumstances. Whatever happened outside the family home, Kenny Jr. praises his dad for how he raised him, his brother and two sisters.
Thanks to good behavior, Kenny Sr. was able to watch his son get drafted last week. Immediately afterward, his teary-eyed father called his son to tell him how proud he was.
“You always need your dad,” said Clark when asked why he remains close with him. “You don’t want to exclude anybody out of the family, especially when my mom and my dad are still together. My mom raised us right and my dad raised us right. We just kept that type of relationship.”
Kenny’s mom has been the family’s rock over the past decade. She encouraged her son to stick with football and keep his nose to the ground. She even convinced him to finally get a driver’s license shortly after his 20th birthday last year.
Soon after he arrived in Green Bay, Clark took a picture of his locker and stared at it for at least two minutes. As the day progressed, the realization of what’s happened over the past week started to set in.
It’s only one practice, but Clark felt good about Friday’s workout inside the Don Hutson Center. He already bumped into former UCLA teammate Brett Hundley and has traded texts with defensive end Datone Jones all week.
Jones, a former first-round pick himself, gave Clark some of the best advice he’s received since the Packers called his name – don’t put any added pressure on yourself. You’re here to help this team win a championship.
If his college production translates, Clark should have no problem fitting in with the Packers. He had 75 tackles during his final season with the Bruins, including six of the seven sacks he registered in three years at UCLA.
“I remember he was a big, physical guy who got a lot of pushback,” said Packers rookie offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who played Clark during his time at Stanford. “We were a big downhill running team, so double-teams were crucial on him.”
Clark will have to return to Los Angeles after this weekend’s rookie orientation to finish his final quarter at UCLA before coming back to Green Bay sometime next month for the final stretch of the offseason program.
He’s still another year from graduating, but it’s important to both him and his family that he earns his degree.
Clark has been through a lot in his 20 years, but the rookie defensive tackle believes all of those life experiences have played an important role in where he is today.
“I think it has to do a lot with adversity, really,” Clark said. “Just staying low and being who you are. Just going and doing what you need to do.”
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