As a former distance runner, Seminole State College cross country Coach Octavius Clark understands what it’s like for his student-athletes.
He said his favorite moment as a coach is seeing the athletes improve their times, and he likes the camaraderie with the student athletes. He also understands the pain and anguish his athletes go through when they are injured.
Clark is in his second year of coaching the new team at SSC. For the first time, the college’s cross country team has a full roster on the men’s and women’s teams.
Clark has been a cross country coach for 22 years. He said he started coaching because he was a runner in high school and in college, and he didn’t have a great high school coach. So when he became an athlete and then retired he wanted to give something back to young runners.
Not only does he coach the college squad, he also coaches the Winter Springs High School team. Clark said coaching at the college level is a lot different from high school.
“With High School, at the end of practice, kids go home to their families, to mom and dad,” Clark said, “and in college, they go home to their apartments or to their dorms and you kinda always have to be on the alert because they’re still young people and you worry about them.”
Derartu Berrios is a freshman team member for Seminole State. She said she is enjoying her time on the team, and she thinks Clark is amazing.
“He’s very funny and believes in his athletes, and he knows how to push us to do better,” Berrios said.
Hurricane Dorian cancelled a bunch of the teams’ practices, but now they are practicing Monday through Friday. On Saturday, the men’s team finished third and the women’s team ended up fifth out of 15 teams at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Universal meet in Daytona Beach.
Berrios said she looks forward to the final two meets that compete for state and national championships. The Florida College System Activities Association Championship takes place Oct. 25 in Tallahassee. Then the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship is set for Nov. 9 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“They are our last meets, and it’ll be exciting to finish off the season strong,” Berrios said.
Principal Peter Gaffney of Winter Springs High School has known Clark anywhere about 15 years.
“I was the principal over at Keeth Elementary School, and I actually invited Mr. Clark to be our guest speaker one time during our Veterans Day because he is a veteran,” Gaffney said. He added that being a veteran is “a big part of who Mr. Clark is.”
Gaffney said when he thinks about Coach Clark, he thinks about someone who is “all in” for everything the school does.
“His enthusiasm, commitment, and drive to always want kids to succeed, he’s gone above and beyond for his kids all the time to do things for them that many coaches would not,” Gaffney said in describing Clark. “He’s always there for them and always there to cheer for them, and he just has a passion and commitment about running that matches no other.”