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Hays High's Clark, Zimmerman sign letters

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

While many people won't answer a call when they don't recognize the number -- especially ones with different area codes -- Lane Clark isn't one of them. At least he wasn't the day he received a call from Tennessee State University about the idea of him playing football for them.

"Got a call during physics class. Didn't recognize the number. Just thought I'd take it so I kind of snuck out of class," said Clark, a senior at Hays High School. "I was surprised by everything. They were interested in me. Made a visit over spring break. Loved everything about it: Nashville, the campus. Everybody was friendly and welcoming. It felt like the right decision right from there."

Clark finalized his decision on Thursday in the Hays High cafeteria when he signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for Division I Tennessee State, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as 1-AA.

Clark -- a four-sport athlete at Hays High in football, soccer, basketball and golf -- will go to TSU as a kicker, a goal he began to pursue as a junior when he started attending numerous camps and training sessions. He has worked with former Kansas State University kicker Anthony Cantele as well as former University of Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert, and it was through these camps that TSU caught wind of Clark's powerful leg.

"I'm sure Tennessee State just saw a couple of videos of me online and that's where they got interested," Clark said. "Everyone there had a smile on their face, were welcoming. I met a couple of the professors and they seemed interested in me coming. They put interest in me, and I put interest in the school as a whole. It just seems like something I should pursue."

TSU, which is located in Nashville and plays its home football games at LP Field -- also the home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans -- hasn't been very successful this century, but is coming off a breakthrough season in which it went 10-4 and advanced to the second round of the FCS tournament.

Clark plans to major in biology at TSU and then pursue a career as a medical doctor. And while it's not necessarily an immediate plan of his, knowing Vanderbilt University, which has one of the best medical programs in the country, is literally right down the road from TSU certainly didn't hinder his decision to attend the university.

"It's like six blocks down the road. I don't see why not," Clark joked about possibly attending Vanderbilt after his time at TSU. "I'm excited. It's a big step going from 5A football to Division I, but hopefully I can perform the best I can."

While it is a big step, no one who knows Clark will believe he can't handle the pressure. He has been able excel in clutch situations his entire athletic career and proved how bighis leg is repeatedly for the Indians as a senior.

Ryan Cornelsen, Clark's football coach at Hays High the past four seasons, said his ability to get touchbacks on kickoffs and his skill at kicking field goals from as far as 50 yards made him an invaluable weapon.

But more than that, his ability to cope with everything off the field is why there is little doubt about him as he begins his journey at TSU.

"He is just a great kid. Any time you have a kid that can compete in four different sports, two at one time, and be a leader in each one of the sports is an amazing accomplishment," Cornelsen said. "If you look at what he's able to do kicking the ball for us, it's been a huge factor in our team the last two years. I can't say enough about just the type of kid he is."

Zimmerman signs with FHSU track

Also on Thursday in the HHS cafeteria, Hays High senior Wendy Zimmerman signed her National Letter of Intent to compete in track and field for Fort Hays State University next season.

Zimmerman, a long time staple of the Indians' cross country and track and field teams, has battled numerous injuries much of her career. When healthy she has proven to be one of the state's best jumpers and has been an exceptional medium distance and relay runner.

She has been so good, in fact, that even Wichita State University took notice of her at the K.T. Woodman/pre-state track meet at FHSU earlier this spring. But her relationship with the FHSU coaching staff was the ultimate decider in her becoming a Tiger.

Zimmerman's diverse skill sets on the track make her a rare multi-event talent.

"She's a great athlete and a great kid. It's not been a great situation with the number of injuries she's had," said Cornelsen, Hays High's track and field coach.

"To be able to keep bouncing back from those and be able to be the athlete she is and be able to perform at the highest level is amazing. I'm just proud of her. A lot of kids with those kinds of injuries might not have kept working at it but she does. She takes it in stride and when she's healthy she is extremely good."

Zimmerman underwent abdominal surgery in the fall and injured her ankle this spring playing soccer. She has missed the last month in both track and soccer, but was able to return to practice this week. Cornelsen hopes to have her back for running events at the WAC meet, which is May 15 in Dodge City. If all goes well, Zimmerman should be able to jump when the Indians go to regionals on May 23.