When Chuck Clark first arrived at the Under Armour Performance Center as a sixth-round pick – the final pick of the 2017 draft class – a coach laid out the projection for each rookie.
"When he got to me, he kind of said, 'It's going to be tough for you to make this team. If anything, you'll probably be special teams – if that,'" Clark said. "It kind of pissed me off, but I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to prove to them that I'm going to be here. I'm not just a special teams player; I know what I can do.' It was just a little fire."
It sounds like a little harsh reality, but good coaching is about motivation and bringing out the best in your players, and those words certainly helped drive Clark.
Three years later, Clark has proven himself, and the Ravens showed their faith with a three-year contract extension inked Monday morning that establishes him as one of the defense's building blocks. As veteran teammate Anthony Levine Sr. said, Clark is the future.
It wasn't easy to wait his turn. Clark stood out on special teams for his first two seasons, but only played 5.7 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie, then 23.4 percent as a sophomore, per Pro Football Focus.
It was understandable considering the talent he had in front of him with Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas III. But that still doesn't make it easy.
It wasn't until Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 last year that Clark took over. He played every single defensive snap the rest of the way except for two.
Clark became the back-end communicator of the defense, wearing the green dot to relay Wink Martindale's playcalls to the rest of the unit and make sure everybody was lined up. Martindale compared him to Magic Johnson and Eric Weddle in the way he set up his teammates to make plays.
Clark's football intelligence has always been one of his strongest attributes. When Thomas first arrived and saw how well Clark knew the defense, he said he couldn't believe the Ravens had brought him to Baltimore when they already had Clark.
"You just have to be able to manage your emotions in this game," Clark said. "It's a lot of ups and downs, especially [for] a guy that was in my position. You're a second-string, third-string, special teams player, and in the back of your mind, you know what you can do and you know what you're able to do in this league."
Clark said the toughest moments of his first two seasons were during games, when he would see a mistake happen and think to himself that he could have probably make that play. Once he got his turn, the Ravens defense hit its stride, becoming the top-ranked unit in the NFL from Week 7 on.
"Chuck is a great story about hard work, patience, preparation and passion," General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "He waited for his chance and seized the opportunity. Chuck's a good football player, a fine teammate and a respected leader. He's the type of player we want on our defense for a long time."
Now that Clark has proven that he's a starter who deserves to stick around, he's already on to the next goal. He celebrated Monday by spending a few hours with his 4-month-old daughter and going out for dinner with his wife at a little Mexican restaurant – "nothing too crazy."
Clark said nothing will change for him moving forward, though he realizes he'll have to continue to grow as a leader – one teammates already have a great deal of respect for. Individually, he feels he's just getting started in terms of showing what he can be in this league.
Clark led the Ravens in tackles last season but only had one interception and two forced fumbles. He said he wants to create more turnovers, be named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro.
"Just keep building and proving that I can be a top a safety in this league," Clark said.