WVU coaches look for DE Clarke to 'cut loose'
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Will Clarke is the type of gentle giant who will greet you with a smile and visit sick children in the hospital without fanfare.
A player who serves as a fine representative of the West Virginia football team, coaches said.
“A model student-athlete,” defensive line coach Erik Slaughter said of the 6-foot-7, 273-pound Clarke, a defensive end from Allderdice.
“Everything you want in a young man,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said.
It's also time for Clarke, an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, to make an about-face, his coaches said.
What makes Clarke so likable, Slaughter and Patterson said, is the only thing holding him back from becoming dominant.
“Will's deal is he's a very nice young man,” Slaughter said. “And then when he gets on the field, sometimes he's a very nice young man.
“So our deal is to try to get him to play at a high level of intensity all the time. Not that he's not intense and doesn't want to, but, again, he's a nice guy. We're not out there to be friends with anybody. We're out there to win football games.”
Safety Darwin Cook is the only WVU player who enters the season with more career starts than Clarke's 22. Clarke's stat line — 26 tackles, 1 1⁄2 sacks, 6 1⁄2 tackles for loss, three pass breakups last season — hasn't been eye-popping, but he has been a steady presence since his redshirt sophomore season of 2011.
“He's big, athletic, always does what he's supposed to do,” Patterson said. “I'm really excited to see him cut loose this year and become a playmaker because he has all the athleticism to be as good as he wants to be.
“It's just a matter of getting him to cut loose and finish plays. That's where we've challenged him. He's a great pass-rusher. He's big, strong, athletic against the run. Now we just want him to produce: quarterback sacks, tackles for loss, get involved and become a finisher of plays.”
During preseason camp, Clarke has stressed a Mountaineers mantra: The defense needs to get “nasty” following a season in which it was one of the worst in the country in opponents' yards and points.
But being nasty, it seems, isn't in Clarke's DNA. The son of a former Duquesne basketball player, Clarke's coaches said that he sometimes shies away from getting proverbially down and dirty.
Clarke, a two-time Tribune-Review all-City League tight end and linebacker, has gained about 40 pounds since arriving at WVU four years ago. He has the size and tools to be on the radar for the upcoming NFL Draft. A season full of so-called splash plays would help him gain further notice.
So would a better performance by the Mountaineers' defense.
“Our intensity has heightened,” Clarke said. “We have been really focusing on being intense, hard-edged, just excited to play. We were excited last year, but I feel like we have more of a hard-edged mentality to us.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.