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Clark, Williford, & Powell – Ruled College Scene | By Thad Mumau

Over the years, Fayetteville and Cumberland County have sent a large number of athletes into collegiate arenas, with several enjoying outstanding success. Looking back, three names jump out in terms of accomplishments in the two college headline sports.

First is a tale of two teammates who went on to Atlantic Coast Conference basketball careers with schools that always have been arch rivals. The stories of Rusty and the Moving Vann are particularly interesting, especially considering the contrast in their projected potential coming out of high school.

Rusty is Franklin Clark, a big-time prospect who was a key figure on North Carolina teams that won Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships on the way to Final Four appearances in all three of his varsity years.

The Moving Vann is Vann Williford, who was overlooked by major colleges until the last minute, then took advantage of his opportunity by becoming N.C. State’s brightest star and helping win a shocking ACC tourney title his senior season.

Clark was the main cog as Len Maness’ Fayetteville High School team rolled to the state championship in 1965. Williford also played on that team and returned the next season as the Bulldogs made it back-to-back state titles.

Whereas Clark (who was referred to as a 7-footer throughout his time in Chapel Hill, but was always listed at 6-11) attracted considerable attention from college coaches, the 6-foot-6 Williford did not. He was ready to accept an offer from Pfeiffer when N.C. State coach Norm Sloan was persuaded to give his last scholarship to the skinny kid with the soft shooting touch.

Both former Bulldogs made their marks on ACC basketball.

Although he was surrounded with crowd pleasers like matinee idol point guard Dick Grubar and superstars Larry Miller and Charlie Scott, Clark was an integral part of the Tar Heels’ success.

Carolina won 81 of 96 games during the big redhead’s career as he averaged 14.7 points and 10.2 rebounds. His best numbers came as a junior when he scored 15.8 points and grabbed 11 boards per game to earn All-ACC second-team recognition. That season, in a February contest against Maryland in Carmichael Auditorium, Clark pulled down 30 rebounds. It remains a school record (the ACC single-game rebound record is 36 by Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric in 1955).

Dean Smith has said that getting Clark laid the foundation for Carolina’s amazing run of hoops supremacy. Smith noted that Clark was the outstanding big man a program needs to excel and that his presence – on the glass and changing shots – allowed more glorified teammates to flourish.

N.C. State’s sports information department promoted Williford as the Moving Vann, and it was an accurate portrayal. Williford neutralized his size disadvantage by beating other big men to the spot, ranging away from the basket and racing ahead in transition, thereby freeing himself for open shots. And he sure could shoot the basketball.

He averaged 19 points and 9.4 rebounds over an 81-game career, throwing in 23.7 points per contest as a senior and 21.6 his junior season. Williford was an All-ACC first-team selection both of those years.

Williford scored 18 points as N.C. State pulled a huge upset, knocking off nationally third-ranked South Carolina, 42-39, in the 1970 ACC Tournament championship game. He scored 30 and 25 points in the first two rounds and was named tournament MVP.

He was named the Wolfpack’s outstanding all-around student athlete of the year in 1970, and his No. 14 is one of State’s “Honored Jerseys.”

Clark and Williford were together again last winter when they were inducted into the Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame, joining a class that also included Junior Edge, Chris Cammack and Tom Jackson.

Powell was astounding

This county has produced numerous standout football players over the years, but none has approached the acclaim received by Marvin Powell.

A 1972 graduate of Seventy-First High School, the 6-5, 270-pound offensive tackle was heavily recruited before choosing Southern Cal. Powell was a three-time All-Pac 10 selection (freshmen did not play varsity football or basketball back then). He started for the Trojans’ national championship team as a sophomore and was a first-team All-American as a junior and senior.

Powell was a first-round NFL draft selection, taken by the New York Jets with the fourth pick. He was voted to the Pro Bowl five straight years from 1979 to 1983 during an 11-year pro career.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame in 2004.