Holy cross

Tolman Grad Jeremy Clark: From humble beginnings of tennis to the Holy Cross Exchange

Jeremy Clark – Photo: Brendan McGair

The legend of how a youngster from Pawtucket became an NCAA Division I tennis player began on an innocent note.

“My mother [Diane] dropped off my siblings and I, ”recalls Jeremy Clark, referring to the Slater Park Youth Summer Tennis Camp he attended at the age of four.

Looking back, this camp marked the start of a mentor-mentee relationship in which the mentor took an interest in Clark, who had wasted no time building a reputation for racketeering outbursts. One day, the mentor approached the youth tennis camp instructor (Sean McClelland) to inquire specifically about Clark.

Jeremy clark

“He was loud and so interested,” said Mario Llano, the aforementioned mentor, who was ready to offer Clark a golden opportunity for him to continue his tennis education.

“It was an easy choice,” Llano noted of Clark, who probably wouldn’t have become one of the state’s top high school tennis players without the resources provided by Project Change. Project change is a non-profit organization working in conjunction with the East Providence-based organization RI Tennis Academy which belongs to Llano.

A recent graduate of Tolman High School, Clark transformed the tutelage of Llano and Jeff Cote – an assistant coach at the RI Tennis Academy – into a place on the College of the Holy Cross men’s tennis team.

How’s that for a success story?

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(LR) Mario Llano, Jeremy Clark, Jeff Côté – Photo: Brendan McGair

“All it took was several times before I realized, ‘Oh my God. This kid is going to be the next big thing, ”Côté said.

Clark is the second youngest of nine siblings. To garner the kind of exposure that ultimately led him to grab the attention of the the holy cross coaches, it was imperative that the family received help paying the registration fee and transportation costs to enter American Tennis Association / New England – sponsored youth tournaments.

This is where the financial liferaft made available through Project Change turned out to be Clark’s golden ticket. Basically, he was a scholarship kid long before he got a Holy Cross scholarship.

“From day one, I told Jeremy’s parents that he could come any day until he finished high school. He has to be there every day for two hours a day, ”Llano said. “He had the commitment and the passion. Besides, he liked it.

Cote added: “Without Project Change, playing Division I tennis would have been difficult to achieve. Tennis is a sport where you have to be coached. You have to learn the technique. He listened, but Project Change helped Jeremy 100 percent.

At Clark, Llano and Cote had a solid foundation to work with – develop and shape. Lots of tennis balls went through the net in the quest to transform Clark from a skinny youngster into a technically solid player who attacks as a southpaw.

“I consider Mario and Jeff to be another group of parents. I’ve been with them most of my life, ”said Clark. “Confidence is important. If they tell me something, I trust them. I’ve listened to them year after year and it paid off.

Clark was eight years old when he remembered taking a big leap – mentally and physically. He had already made a commitment to give his life to tennis. On the sport side, it has become his true vocation.

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Jeremy Clark – Photo courtesy of the Clark family

He wasn’t even close to reaching teenage status, but Clark was already aware of what the sport could do for him after he graduated from high school.

“Once I started earning [USTA tournaments], it was like, boom, there it is, ”Clark said. “The competitive aspect is something I really liked. “

Under the watchful eyes of Llano and Cote, Clark has settled into a routine all year round, six days a week, at the indoor facilities at Center Court, the headquarters of the RI Tennis Academy. It became Clark’s unofficial home.

If Clark needs the extra motivation, all he has to do is look at his younger sister Aubrey, a college girl with Down syndrome and autism.

“If I’m on the pitch and lose a game, I think about the things she can’t do. That’s why I push so hard, ”said Clark, a strong student who placed third in Tolman’s class in 2021.

Llano and Côté are convinced the best is yet to come for Clark. After falling in the semi-finals of the RI Interscholastic League men’s individual tennis tournament this year, Clark expressed a similar sentiment – echoing the mentor who helped unlock huge potential.

“In college, he will be surrounded by children at his level. Most of the time, Jeremy was one of the best kids, ”Côté said. “Tennis is all about being pushed, but it will rise to the occasion. He has the basics and the talent. Now it is a matter of getting used to the practices and other requirements.