Allderdice defensive end Clarke adapts to change
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —At first, Will Clarke was going to stay home and play football at Pitt.
Then he wasn't.
After changing his mind to attend West Virginia, Clarke remained a Big East man all the way.
Then he wasn't.
“Things are going to change, but if you have the right mental attitude and know what you're here to do, which is play football, you'll be able to adapt to any change,” said Clarke, the first player from Allderdice to sign with a Bowl Championship Series university since recent Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin went to Pitt. “I feel like I made the best choice.”
For Clarke — a junior defensive end who originally committed to Pitt and also considered Akron and Iowa before signing with West Virginia in March 2009 — the changes continue.
After switching his college choice from Pitt to West Virginia, then seeing Bill Stewart — the coach who recruited him — replaced by Dana Holgorsen, and then, finally, seeing WVU move from the Big East to the Big 12 this year, Clarke experienced yet another change when the Mountaineers added a 3-4 defense.
“There was a lot of pressure making the decision to go to West Virginia,” said Clarke, whose father, former Duquesne basketball player Bill Clarke, was good friends with Pitt football and basketball great Sam Clancy. “Being from Pittsburgh, all your hometown people want you to go to Pitt. But I had a lot of help from people from Allderdice. My family helped me realize it was my decision to do what was best.”
While at Allderdice, Clarke, also a basketball star, leaned on advice from former Oliver coach Jerry Haslett, who taught classes at Allderdice, and position coach William McLinden, who played football at West Virginia from 1984-87.
“Everybody was pestering him: ‘You need to go to West Virginia. You need to go to Pitt.' He made an adult decision when he was 17,” said Haslett, now the coach at Allderdice and the brother of Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “Sam Clancy was his dad's best friend. You don't think Sam wanted him to go to Pitt?”
McLinden, who attended Bethel Park, understands there's peer pressure involved when a Pittsburgh kid leaves home to play football at West Virginia.
“Will didn't succumb to what everybody else wanted him to do,” McLinden said. “He took a lot of time to make sure he was where he wanted to be.”
Now that he's settled in with the Mountaineers, big things are expected from Clarke.
Clarke started 11 games last season, registering 34 tackles and five tackles for losses, including two sacks. He made his first start in the opener against Marshall and recorded a career-high nine tackles against South Florida.
“Going to the Big 12 was definitely something I wasn't thinking about, or the coaching changes,” Clarke said. “I really liked (former defensive line) coach (Bill) Kirelawich and Coach (Stewart). I liked how they sold the program to me.
“Some people feel the Big 12 is bigger than the Big East. Kids in Pittsburgh now think of West Virginia as a Big 12 school that's not far away from home and plays teams like Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. That's a big sales pitch.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.