Entering his third season as the head coach of the Robert Morris football team, Bernard Clark is preparing to guide his team through a five-game spring season in its new conference, the Big South.
After finishing 2-8 in 2018, RMU bounced back with a 7-5 record last season in Clark’s second year at the helm. In the process, the team snapped a conference losing streak that dated back to 2016.
The switch to a new conference means new competition for RMU. Monmouth, who finished 11-3 last year with a perfect 6-0 record in conference play attempts to start their title defense against RMU in the team’s first ever game in the Big South. Following that game, RMU will play last season’s second and third place finishers, Charleston Southern and Kennesaw State, in the following weeks. Clark is eager to see how his team stacks up in this short season and how far off they are from competing for titles of their own.
“We got two of the top teams that we have in our conference, so it’s going to be great to see how we are going to stack up,” said Clark. “It’s going to give us a great idea how far we need to go, or how close we are, and how much we are competing.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic moving the team’s season from last fall to the spring, Clark was quick to point out that it actually benefited the current freshman class and provided them with an opportunity to grow.
“That’s probably the greatest thing about this COVID situation. This spring we can play our freshmen, and it’s just like a redshirt year for them. So it’s like they’re scrimmaging, and so they still get that fifth year back.”
Clark is also excited about some of his returning players, including skill position players like Alijah Jackson and George Martin. Jackson finished second in the NEC in rushing, finishing with 971 yards and four touchdowns while averaging over five yards per carry. That success could also be attributed to the offensive line, who is also returning several players.
“Those guys have played a lot of snaps for us on the offensive line, so we have a great chance at just playing hard.”
With the long delay between this season and the 2019 season, Clark believes that his team is more anxious to play than nervous for the challenges ahead.
“They are chomping at the bit to be totally honest with you,” said Clark. “They just want to play right now. They just want to compete against another uniform.”
Clark is confident in what his team can accomplish this season if they work hard and stay competitive, even with the tough opposition.
“We have to make sure that we are competing hard and getting after it,” said Clark. “If we’re competing, we can win football games. If we’re not competing, we can’t win football games.”
A notable absence from RMU’s schedule this season is their rival Duquesne. Even after departing from the Northeast Conference, Clark remains hopeful that the two sides will play in the future.
“I want for the Duquesne game to happen,” said Clark. “I’m not upset with anybody from Duquesne, I don’t want them to think I’m upset with them that we aren’t playing. It’s just something that happens, but if we can pick them up and play in a game, that’d be great.”
The Colonials’ season begins with a game in Harrisonburg, Virginia, against FCS powerhouse James Madison on Feb 27. Clark vividly recalls his team’s embarrassing 73-7 loss to Dukes in 2018.
“I’ll never forget that score,” said Clark. “James Madison was just a better team than we were, plain and simple. But we didn’t compete, and that’s probably what bothered me more than anything else.”
With less than a month until the season, Clark will soon get the chance to right those wrongs from the past and have the pen in his hand as the Colonials write the next chapter in program history.