Harding U’s West Tennessee duo returns home during lost season

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Tommy Clifton and Malik Mathews

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Since beginning his college football career, Brighton Cardinal Football great Malik Mathews has been a standout in the Black and Gold of the Harding University Bisons.
It has been rare during an August, September or October Friday night for him to have time to come see his alma mater play on the gridiron. But on Sept. 4, because of the cancellation of the 2020 football season for the Bisons due to COVID-19, Mathews was on the sideline to root on his Cardinals.
Mathews was the special guest of his new teammate and Millington Trojan Football legend Tommy Clifton. The Brighton vs. Millington contest had the two Bisons on opposite sidelines for one night. And Mathews left Mooney Boswell Field on the victorious side.
“Cardinal Pride baby,” he declared to Clifton.
Clifton, who quarterbacked Millington the previous season, said his beloved Trojans are going through a transition period.
“Being out here in general is bittersweet,” he said “They’re young so I try to give McCoy Pugh what I didn’t have and be a mentor to him. They’re going to be alright. It’s trusting the process. They’re going to be good.”
The extra time Clifton has on weekends, he is keeping busy with assisting former teammates with advice and studying his new playbook from Searcy, Ark.
Mathews said being a good college football players and mentor to your alma mater takes balance.
“I come out every spring and during the summer for a couple of workouts,” Mathews said. “I see them and talk to them, a couple of them individually. They know if they need me, I’ll be there for them. They can count on me.”
Clifton is included in the group counting on Mathews for leadership. With Clifton having an awesome 2019 season with 1,672 yards rushing years scoring 25 touchdowns, Mathews heard all about the Trojan standout.
“Recently I got elected as group leader,” Mathews noted. “The first person I thought about picking was him and help him get right. We’ve been training for about two weeks now. We just got back from a workout. I’m going to make sure he’s handling all his business.”
The Bisons are a run-heavy offense. Mathews was a standout running back for the Cardinals in the mid-2010s. He noted Clifton’s skills will translate over to the Harding offense perfectly.
Clifton said the coronavirus cancellation will give him a chance to understand and know the offense better to compliment his abilities.
“For me personally, I like to look at the pros of it,” he said. “It gives me time, a whole year, to get into the offense and get to know things. I can get into the training and really get right and be where I need to be.”
Right now Mathews needs to be an upperclassmen leader for the Bison.
“My role is to lead and make sure everybody stays on the right task, do the right things,” Mathews said. “We have free weekends now, so we have to make sure we keep our players in the right mind and make sure they don’t go out doing anything stupid.”
Hanging out with Clifton in his hometown to catch a rivalry game was a smart decision for Mathews. But the freshman reminded his new teammate the best colors for a football uniform.
“It feels good to see a Cardinal in Black and Gold,” he declared to Mathews.
Alongside former Bartlett Panther Patrick Healy, Clifton and Mathews said players from the Volunteer State will represent across the bridge in that Black and Gold.
“I feel good now having somebody from the West Tennessee area so I can talk stuff to my Texas folks,” he concluded. “Let them know we play ball out here too in West Tennessee.”