Former WVU lineman Clarke in rush to grab NFL job
Will Clarke spent much of his youth moving around “all over the city,” he said, “trying to stay away from the troubled parts of Pittsburgh. My mom and dad were pretty successful at that.”
Beverly and Bill Clarke's son turned out to be pretty successful, too. He finally settled in Morgantown, W.Va., where he developed into a stellar defensive lineman for West Virginia and earned his degree. Now Clarke is preparing to move again, destination unknown. He expects to find out later this week during the NFL Draft.
Projected as a defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker (or maybe a hybrid of both), the former Allderdice star is moving up the charts. Originally tabbed as a mid- to late-round pick, he might go as high as the third round, according to some draftniks.
“I've heard that,” he said. “It's a good thing. I'm happy about it.”
Clarke was the first Allderdice football player to earn a scholarship to a BCS school since Curtis Martin in 1991. He first committed to Pitt but changed his mind, mainly because of then-coach Bill Stewart.
“Coach Stew was a very welcoming guy, and I felt I had a chance to excel as a player and student,” Clarke said.
After redshirting as a freshman, Clarke improved every season, playing up and down the defensive line in various schemes under several defensive coordinators. As a senior in 2013, he logged 17 tackles for losses and six sacks and made second-team All-Big 12.
Then, he turned heads during Senior Bowl week and performed well at the NFL Combine and WVU's Pro Day, raising his profile. Clarke is listed at 6-foot-6, 271 pounds, with good strength, hands and quickness, and the potential to bother quarterbacks — a hot commodity in an increasingly pass-happy league.
“He's a great athlete,” draft analyst Mike Detillier said. “I think he'll be a better professional player than a college player. He's got that long, lean frame, a huge wingspan, and he knows how to get around blockers. He's got to learn better technique and leverage skills, but he's really improved by leaps and bounds.
“Pass rushers are so difficult to find,” Detillier added. “The hardest position to find is defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker. Will brings you that ability.”
Clarke borrowed some of his size and athletic ability from his dad, a 6-9 former basketball player at Fifth Avenue High School and Duquesne. Will Clarke was a good basketball player himself at Allderdice, “which helped me out a lot,” he said.
Clarke, who graduated in December with a degree in criminology, carried 245 pounds when he arrived at WVU. Establishing residency in the weight room, he became the only three-time recipient of the Iron Mountaineer award, which recognizes the squad's best-conditioned athlete. He cherishes the honor.
“It means I was well-respected for my work, on and off the field, by my teammates,” he said. “In my younger years, that meant the most to me, getting recognition from the older players.
“I wanted to get stronger. I wanted to get bigger and faster, so I just worked at it. The weight room isn't so painful if you want to do it.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.