As an athlete at Spanish Fork High School in the 2000s, Jeb Clark knew all about the rivalry with Payson. For the last eight years, Clark has been the head wrestling coach for the Lions.
There is no doubt he understands the Payson community.
“We have one of the best wrestling communities there is,” Clark said in a phone interview Monday. “People come out and watch here in Payson. We can use that aspect to our benefit as well. There is a lot of untapped potential here.”
Now he is taking on a new challenge as he was recently named the head football coach for the Lions.
“I’ve been in and out of the football program since I’ve been coaching wrestling,” Clark said. “I assisted two different head coaches and I’ve always really loved football. My dad was a head football coach at Delta and Cedar and Spanish Fork. I grew up in a football house. I talked to my dad about if a football job opened up that maybe I would consider giving it a shot and try and help the program out a little bit.”
When the Payson coaching position became available, Clark had to think very carefully about whether he wanted to do it — particularly since he was planning to continue coaching the Lion wrestling team.
“I have a family at home, so when I was considering it I talked to my wife and we decided we could make it work,” Clark said. “It just all kind of worked out that way for me.”
This is a unique time in Payson football history, since dwindling numbers compelled the school to leave the traditional region setup and become independent.
“The decision was kind of made before I took the job and to be honest I was skeptical of the whole thing at first,” Clark said. “I was thinking that if you don’t have a region championship, what do you have to work towards? As I talked to the Payson administration, they helped me see the potential benefits of it. There was also a parent meeting here in town before I became the head coach and I went to it. The parents wanted it. I think the idea behind it is a good one and it could potentially get the support out we need to rebound the program. Our hope is to maybe be independent for a year, get the numbers up where we need to be and then get back in a region.”
Clark does know something about winning programs. No Lion coach has had as much success as he has in the past decade as his wrestling teams have won three state championships (3A in 2013 and 2014, 4A in 2019).
He was quick to point out that football and wrestling are very different sports.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” Clark said. “At the same time, attitude is attitude in any sport. Tradition is a big deal. Payson wrestling has had tradition for quite some time now that has built up for generations. I just get to be a part of it. Wrestling success starts in the youth programs and we just get them coming up. One of the areas for football is there are a lot of football players in Payson but then we lose them in eighth or ninth grades. The hope is that we can improve the turnaround rate.”
He said he feels like Derek Campbell, the previous head coach for Payson, had some solid successes and he hopes to build on those.
“We just need to get more kids out,” Clark said. “I know some have been discouraged because we haven’t had tons of success. We just haven’t been getting as many athletes as we need. We have good athletes here in Payson. We just need them to come play football.”
He said the first step — as soon as wrestling season is over — is to get out and talk to student-athletes about being football players.
“I’ve already been all over the school, trying to talk kids into coming out to play football,” Clark said. “I’m also going to go down to the junior highs and finds the athletes. I’m going to try to get those kids excited about coming up and building a program.”