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Pitt's Clermond tackles leadership role

Kevin Gorman
| Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The chocolate-covered brownies were tempting, but Joe Clermond passed the dish without even glancing at them. The open bar offered a wide array of beverages, but Clermond opted for bottled water.

Never mind that the clambake, the kickoff to the Big East Media Day this past week in Newport, R.I., was a loose social affair where he could have let his guard down.

For Clermond, this season is all business.

"When you go 6-6, you owe a lot," Clermond said. "You've got a lot of IOU's to repay. So, it's like, 'let's go to work.' "

Although his self-restraint at the dinner table wasn't noticed by Dave Wannstedt, a casual comment by the fifth-year senior defensive end caught the Pitt coach's attention. Clermond mentioned in passing that he was at the freshmen dorm, checking in on prized recruit Tony Tucker.

"That's leadership," Wannstedt said. "It's neat to see that. You want to see guys like that have success, and Joe will."

Once a soft-spoken player overshadowed by classmates H.B. Blades and Clint Session, Clermond is quietly developing into the take-charge leader of Pitt's defense.

Only a year earlier, at the conclusion of spring drills, Wannstedt had a heart-to-heart conversation with Clermond. Something has to give, the coach chided. In Wannstedt's eyes, Clermond was going nowhere.

Perhaps that talk served as inspiration for the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder from Tampa, because he started to sit in the front row of position meetings and was first in line for drills. Or maybe Clermond, a converted outside linebacker, finally got his long-awaited chance and opened eyes with his play.

Clermond was a second-team All-Big East selection this past season, when he led the conference with 16.5 tackles for loss -- his 1.38 TFL-per-game average ranked 15th nationally -- and led the Panthers with 5.5 sacks.

Now, brimming with confidence, Clermond is wrapping his arms around the role of becoming Pitt's vocal leader.

"It's something most players want to do, but I don't know if they're comfortable doing it," Clermond said. "Sometimes, you'll say things, you'll step up. When you see it's actually helping out, it gives you the confidence to do it and talk with the team. I know I have the respect of the players, that they will see me as a leader by example. Once I saw the coaches had confidence in me, it gave me even more confidence."

Clermond's conversion hasn't gone unnoticed with Panthers players, especially the upperclassmen.

"I don't know what's gotten into him," senior receiver Derek Kinder joked. "He's talking so much these days. Sometimes, you have just got to shut him up."

Kinder, Pitt's lone returning first-team All-Big East selection, noted the difference he's seen in Clermond during the offseason. It's not just that Clermond is first in every strength and conditioning drill, pacing the pack up Flagstaff Hill even when it included smaller skill players. Clermond also is coming up with activities to produce team bonding, and is viewed as an unquestioned spokesman.

"Everybody sees him more seriously now," Kinder said. "He's definitely respected more on the team now. He's trying to be the best player he can be individually, and he's trying to get this team to be as close-knit as possible.

"He really is the definition of a great leader."

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