How fatherhood has helped TCU safety Bud Clark become a leader

You’ll never know who you’ll see strolling the sidelines of a TCU football practice.

From former head coaches like Dana Holgorsen to star alums like Max Duggan and Quentin Johnston, there’s some of everybody checking out practices in the Sonny Dykes. But there’s one visitor who draws a crowd like no other and his name is Kenzo Clark, the son of TCU star safety Bud Clark.

Clark’s 1-year-old son has become a favorite for everybody around the program, from the players to Dykes’ wife, Kate. Whether it was Johnston’s draft party last year or an earlier spring practice, whenever Kenzo’s around he becomes the center of attention. It has been important in Clark’s eyes for his son to be around so many people he cares about.

“It’s great to have him around so much success. Cause he’ll be able to grow up in it,” Clark said. For Clark, those around the football program are his extended family.

There’s dozens of uncles and aunties and grandpas when it comes to the coaching staff. While Kenzo may not be able to remember being at the draft parties and practices, the bonds Clark has established in Fort Worth will last a lifetime.

For Dykes, family has always been a big aspect of how he runs his program from his coaching staff to the players. The fact that Clark feels so comfortable bringing his son around the program brings joy to Dykes, who also grew up watching his dad put in work on the football field.

“It’s fun, I think it makes you appreciate how important it is to have your family around,” Dykes said. “It’s important to try and model a relationship for the players. A lot of kids maybe didn’t come from two parent households and they’re trying hard to learn how to be a husband or father. As coaches we’ve got to do a good job of modeling that.

“When we can have our wives around, our families around, I think it’s a great opportunity for those players to see how we interact with our wives, with our kids. It’s great for us to see them with their kids as well.”

Clark has taken on the challenge of being a father, a full-time student and a starter on a Power Four team with vigor despite all the challenges that come with it. But to understand who Clark is as a father, and a player, you have to go back where it all began: Louisiana.

Raising Bud

Clark is a man of many talents. When he’s not picking off quarterbacks in the Big 12, he’s dancing on the sidelines or bringing joy and laughter to the room with his many jokes.

Before he was starring on the football field, Clark was a standout baseball player. His mother Katoya Flowers still remembers his first day of T-ball like it was yesterday.

“They gave him the bat, he swung and he missed the whole tee,” Flowers said. “He took the bat between his legs, raised the tee up and then hit a home run and it was at practice, so when he took off running around the base I took off running with him. I had my steel toe work boots on and was like “Yeah!”

He never played basketball until his senior year of high school, but quickly became a key piece on Alexandria High’s first state championship team in 2020.

“Somebody asked ‘I need Bud to play basketball.’ I said that mane, sorry, he don’t play basketball!” Flowers said with a laugh. Honesty is an important value Flowers instilled in her children and she didn’t want to lie to the coaches and act like Clark was about to be the next big hooper out of Louisiana.

As with most things, it didn’t take Clark long to find how he could maximize his talent.

“By game four, (Coach) called me and said this boy is different,” Flowers said. “This man is out here practicing and they can’t do nothing with him. If you give him three or four games, you’re in trouble because he’s going to learn.”

While Clark was starring in athletics, his mother was grinding through a number of jobs. She became a lead mechanic after being the first female mechanic at her company in Alexandria.

“It was all male, all white in the role and I said I’m coming in to shake things up!” Flower said. “Y’all sitting there all day and don’t do nothing and get paid the most? I want in and I’m coming, those were my words.”

While she was trailblazing as a mechanic with her steel toed boots on she was still working part-time at a funeral home and even got her commercial driving license. Like her son was a young man with many talents, she was a woman with many skills of her own.

She set a great example for Clark and his two younger siblings of what it means to truly put your family first.

“It was instilled in me from a young age,” Clark said. “My momma taught us about grinding, making those small sacrifices and being able to do different things is what she instilled in us.”

Work ethic isn’t the only thing he got from his mother, much of his personality resembles Flowers. They’re both natural comedians that don’t really have to try to make somebody laugh and being down around either of them is a challenge.

In 20 minutes, an interview with Flowers went from being a conversation between strangers to almost feeling like old friends catching up after all these years.

“My momma would wake up in the morning and tell us make somebody smile,” Clark said. “That was her challenge to us, because you don’t know what people are going through.”

All the lessons that were engraved in his psyche from his mom and his success in athletics set him up for success when it came to the biggest and longest challenge of his life: Fatherhood.

Promise to himself

When Flowers first heard her son was about to become a father, like any parent, she was worried. Bringing a child into the world is always beautiful, but all parents know how challenging it can be and that’s before we get into Clark managing his classes, practices and workouts.

“I didn’t want his focus to change,” Flowers said. “I could sing and I always said I’m going to be a singer, I’m going to do this, do that. But I got pregnant with Bud and my whole life changed, so I just wanted to make sure he was great... I was just like sacrifice some things now and keep your focus (on football).”

Flowers’ intentions were coming from the right place, but her son went on his own path with managing fatherhood due to the promise he made to himself when he was a young boy.

“He was just like mom, I don’t want to be who my dad was,” Flowers said. “Bud’s dad wasn’t present in his life. I have a husband, who was a great step-father, but there’s just something about having your own dad... I tried to tell Bud, “Hey maybe sacrifice some time with Kenzo now, so you can be great for him later.”

Clark could easily become the next Horned Frog defensive back to be drafted. After recording eight interceptions the last two seasons, he chose to stay on that path while trying to raise a child at 21. With that promise in his mind, Clark made sure to be devoted to his family while still pursuing his goals of being one of the best safeties in the country.

“Nothing against my pops, but he wasn’t there for me,” Clark said. “He tried to later in my life, but I knew then that it would become a big emphasis for me to be in my child’s life from the jump. Being able to provide him something that not many people can do.”

When Flowers heard her son’s resolve, she knew he was up for the challenge and she became excited herself, immediately starting a shopping spree for the soon-to-be child.

“Once I knew this was happening, I was like I’m about to be an auntie,” Flowers said with a laugh. “I can’t let anybody call me a granny just yet because I am too fine to be somebody’s grandma.”

That type of fun energy has always been a part of Clark’s relationship with his mother, who he refers to as his best friend. He’s gone out of his way to make sure he and Kenzo have the same bond.

The family bond

Nobody has a better sense of what type father Clark has become than his girlfriend and Kenzo’s mother, Nesha Cooper. The two met in Louisiana when Cooper saw Clark on the basketball court and it was the start of a romance that took the pair to Fort Worth.

Seeing Clark live up to the promise he made to himself and his son has been special for Cooper. Her son has already picked up a few of his dad’s characteristics.

“He’s been a great dad, he’s very active,” Cooper said. “He and Kenzo are always dancing, he loves to play with his dad. He’s been a great dad, it makes me really proud. A lot of kids don’t have a father figure so it was important for me also for Kenzo to have that type of bond with his dad. He makes sure he always includes Kenzo in everything.”

Lys Marquez is a student reporter at TCU and has known Clark and Cooper most of her time in Fort Worth. She was one of the first to find out Cooper was pregnant and has become a close family friend and one of Kenzo’s many aunts.

Marquez has seen Clark’s maturation off the field up close.

“Bud was super excited, he was full on excited about having a baby even when Kenzo wasn’t here,” Marquez said. “I feel like having Kenzo calms him down and he’s grown up really fast. It’s cool to see because Kenzo is literally Nesha and Bud’s best friend. They’re always taking him to do stuff.

“Sometimes I feel like with young people that have kids they’re really willing to just hand them off to their families to take care of, but they don’t do that. They’re like this is us, this is our family.”

Dedication to his son hasn’t impacted Clark’s performance on the field as he’s moved into a leadership role in TCU’s defense under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.

Clark credits his ability to stay on top of his playbook and studies to Cooper helping him manage the load.

“It’s been challenging, but thanks to my girlfriend she’s been helping me through everything,” Clark said. “All praise to her really.”

It’s hard for Clark to put his appreciation for Cooper into words at times. He doesn’t forget all of the nights Cooper watched Kenzo while he was exhausted from practice or conditioning, it’s something he doesn’t take for granted and he always make sure to show Cooper how much her effort means to him.

Clark’s own effort has allowed Cooper to enjoy everything that mother brings.

“It’s been amazing to me, it’s a feeling no other,” Cooper said. “Bud’s very lovable, he makes everything fun. I just enjoy raising a kid with him, seeing how happy Kenzo gets when his dad walks through the door warms my heart.”

The life lessons Clark has taken from raising Kenzo are now translating onto the football field. Clark is one of the few remaining players on TCU’s roster to see extended action during the Horned Frogs’ run to the national championship game.

His voice holds weight in the locker room and he’s always making plays on the field to back it up. Raising Kenzo has helped Clark prepare for his leadership role.

“I grew patience,” Clark said. “I didn’t have a lot of patience at first, but now I’m able to see where people are coming from because at one point in time I was in the same position. Fatherhood has helped me grow as a leader, it all ties together.”

By staying true to his word Clark has become a better person and he’s already off to a strong start in raising a man that can be just like him or maybe even greater.