Hawks’ football standouts to take field for a good cause

APPLETON — A pair of Xavier Hawks (Appleton) are honored to be among the top high school players in the state invited to play in the 2014 Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) All-Star Game. Defensive back Keaton Clark and quarterback Matt Ferris will represent the North Large squad in the mid-summer game that raises funds for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Keaton Clark makes a tackle in a Level 4 playoff game versus Greendale. (www.xavierhawks.com photos | Special to The Compass)

Keaton Clark makes a tackle in a Level 4 playoff game versus Greendale. (www.xavierhawks.com photo | Special to The Compass)

“We are all football players, so we look forward to the game, but the main thing is to raise money for a good cause,” said Clark. “During the week, we will get the opportunity to meet with some of the kids involved with Children’s Hospital.”

The game will mark the second charitable sporting event of the summer for Ferris. In June, he will help generate support for Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc. (the MACC Fund) through his participation in the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game in Wisconsin Dells. Ferris will play college basketball for the University of Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on.

Xavier offensive coordinator Jim Zuleger and Matt Ferris enjoy a moment on the sidelines. (www.xavierhawks.com photo | Special to The Compass)

Xavier offensive coordinator Jim Zuleger and Matt Ferris enjoy a moment on the sidelines. (www.xavierhawks.com photo | Special to The Compass)

“I probably won’t do too much (football) prep work because I will be working out with the basketball team,” he said. “We go down for a week and work out, so I will kind of get in the mood for football; one last time to lace up the cleats and go at it on the field before going back to the court.”

Ferris, who also plays baseball for Xavier, understands why some people question his college sport choice. Last season, he threw for 3,949 yards and a state record 50 touchdowns. His honors included Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year, WFCA Player of the Year, Wisconsin Associated Press Player of the Year and Eastern Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

“On the recruitment side of things, I wasn’t looked at after my junior year when our team was 2-6,” he said. “Following my junior year, I played on a travel basketball team trying to get some looks there. I was kind of behind in recruiting for football. I did get a scholarship offer from a school in Missouri, but ultimately when the thing with the Badgers came around, that’s something I had dreamed about. Basketball was always my first love.”
Clark, a unanimous all-conference choice and honorable mention all-state selection, accepted an offer to play football at St. Cloud State University, a Division 2 program. He never imagined when he walked through the doors at Xavier four years ago that he would have the opportunity to play in college.

“I was a transfer from a public school,” he explained. “I came from Neenah. I didn’t know anyone here. My parents made me come here. Looking back, it changed my life. Everyone here is so close. I have learned that how hard you work determines what you are going to get out of your opportunity.”

“He definitely didn’t look like he does now,” said Ferris in reference to Clark’s weight room work.

“I have come a long way,” said Clark, who now stands 6’3” and weighs 200 pounds.
Clark credits Xavier head football coach Dave Hinkens for his support.

“Following my junior season, Coach talked to me about playing at the next level and I just got after it. I’m not close to the same player I was junior year,” he said.

In addition to Hinkens, Ferris points to offensive coordinator Jim Zuleger as the driving force behind his memorable senior season on the gridiron.

“He had so much trust in me,” said Ferris. “We had a mutual respect for each other. He taught me important lessons about life and sports in general.”

Following a 53-49 loss to Clintonville to close the 2012 season, Zuleger told his quarterback to not only work hard and take a leadership role, but to become the best player in the conference and the best player in the state.

“I first thought, ‘Whatever Coach, we are a 2-6 team,’” said Ferris. “I could tell how much he cared about me and everybody on the team. I later reminded him of that conversation.”
The 2013 Hawks advanced to Level 4 of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs and finished with an 11-2 record. The two all-stars praise the practice competition for the team’s success.

“He was the best defensive back we faced this year hands down,” said Ferris about Clark. “That’s why our offense was so good because the defense gave us great looks during practice and they were the guys who got us the ball back.”

“I think it goes both ways,” said Clark, who also competes in track and field. “Our defense faced the best offense in the state every day in practice. That made us a lot better.”

They agree about the top moment from the season, a 30-28 victory over West De Pere in Level 2 of the playoffs.

“The season before we played them and lost by 40 points,” said Ferris. “To see how far you can come in a year. That was really rewarding to see all your hard work pay off.”

The WFCA All-Star Game will be played July 19 at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh. Kickoff for the large schools is scheduled for 5 p.m. Clark and Ferris are collecting donations in support of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. To contribute or for more information, go to www.xavierhawks.com/Sports.