Grass-stained football jerseys are a rare sight in Lake County these days, now that so many teams play on synthetic surfaces.
Still, Lakes running back Direll Clark used his penchant for a clean uniform as motivation to stay upright Friday night on Grant's artificial turf.
"I don't like getting my jersey messed up," Clark said with a laugh. "So I always try not to go down. I just try to keep on my feet. I try to keep going."
Against Grant, Clark kept going, and going and going. And the only thing wrong with his jersey after the game was the small rip in the back up by his left shoulder. My best guess is that it was likely where a Grant defender took a swipe at Clark only to lose his grip.
That happened too many times for Grant's liking in a dominating performance by Clark.
Lakes' 38-7 Class 6A second-round victory over Grant was this in a nutshell: an 85-yard touchdown run by Clark midway through the first quarter in which he put on several mean fakes and then even stayed on his feet when two different defenders caught up to him and had him in their grasp...temporarily.
The Bulldogs could not stop Clark. Period. Even with two or three guys at a time.
"He's just a really good player and he deserved to win," Grant defensive lineman Quinton Quarles said. "He just doesn't stop."
Clark finished with 211 yards and 3 touchdowns (85 yards, 19 yards, 8 yards) on 17 carries in helping Lakes secure its first quarterfinal berth in school history.
"He's a real tough runner and he's a pretty big back," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Clark, just a junior. "He runs pretty physical and he did a great job of finishing runs today."
But what started a lot of those runs for Clark was Lakes' gigantic offensive line. The Eagles average 249 pounds across the front and have been opening big holes for Clark all season.
He was quick to give his linemen credit.
"Really good job to the line," Clark said. "They've been great all season but tonight they were even more physical than usual."
But it's not just size and strength that open up the holes for Clark. His offensive line brings the important intangibles to the table, too.
"We're a really hard-working group. I think one of the hardest-working offensive lines in the conference," said junior lineman Ty Summers, speaking for fellow linemen Dan Pawlak, Dillon Falotico, Isaac Soto, Mike Forney, Zach Ptasienski and tight end John Gomulka. "We also gel together really well.
"I think it shows how well we play together when Direll plays like that."
Clark has been playing like 'that' all season. He has nearly 1,500 rushing yards and has had some of his biggest games at the most important times.
Last week in the Eagles' first-round victory over Rolling Meadows, Clark rolled up 280 yards on an eye-popping 40 carries.
His strength and durability this season have been welcomed after an injury-plagued campaign last year.
As a sophomore, Clark was called up to the varsity three weeks into the season and was inserted into the starting lineup for injured senior James Zell. Clark made the transition seamlessly and was making all kinds of big plays, but then he broke his ankle three weeks later.
"He came back for the playoffs, but he had just barely been cleared," Mertens said of Clark. "So he wasn't himself at the end of last season. I think he worked really hard in the off-season to be ready this year."
Clark says he spent extra time in the weight room getting bigger and stronger and sturdier. He wanted not only to stay injury-free, but to prepare his body for the pounding it would take this season.
Clark knew he would be the focal point of the offense.
"I hit the weights every day during the off-season, and really worked hard to get stronger," Clark said. "I'm just glad I'm here playing this season and that I didn't get hurt."
Keeping his jersey clean all game in a victory that sent his team to the state quarterfinals is the cherry on top.