April 3, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The one thing you notice right away about West Virginia University redshirt freshman defensive end Will Clarke is his impressive size. He is one big dude who just looks good in pads.
In fact, Coach Bill Stewart might want to consider having big Will get off the bus first at road games this year. That will certainly get people's attention … not that he's not getting people's attention here. Clarke has already added 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-6 frame since he first arrived in Morgantown, and even when he sometimes looks at himself in the mirror and he's not sure if he's gained any weight on a particular day, someone else is usually commenting on his developing physique.
"I will be like, 'Man, did I get any bigger?' Then people will look at old pictures from when I first got here and they will say, 'Man, you're getting big,'" Clarke said earlier this week. "All of my friends back home think I'm gigantic now."
He may be gigantic to his high school buddies, but he's not gigantic to other college tackles. Clarke readily admit that he can stand to add a few more pounds in order to take on those big guys standing on the other side of the ball.
"I believe 285 would be fine," he said. "I just have to make sure that I stay agile. I don't want to lose any speed or quickness. As much work that I'm putting into weights, I have to make sure I continue to put in the work with the footwork and the speed work."
There are also daily reminders of his room for growth when he lines up behind junior Julian Miller during drills. Miller came to West Virginia just like Clarke, rawboned and athletic. Now Julian is pushing 270 and he's starting to push people around.
"I talk with Julian a lot and I ask him for advice on pass rushing and taking on things when he first came here," Clarke said. "He just said, 'Man you'll get it. Just listen to Coach Kirelawich. Do what he tells you and everything will come along.'"
No problem there. Kirelawich jaws so much during practice that Clarke says he sometimes hears that raspy voice at night when he's about to fall asleep, or just as he's walking into the Puskar Center.
Kirelawich has an uncanny ability of getting your attention, kind of like when the neighbor decides to fire up the Harley at six in the morning. The one thing all of the players are in solid agreement on is that Kirlav's voice projects nicely.
"Yeah, sometimes I'm thinking, OK, I've got to go to practice today and I'm going to hear all day, 'Bend your knees! Bend your knees! Stay low!' You kind of hear it in your mind even before you get to practice," Clarke laughed. "Then you get here and you see him and the first thing he says is, 'Hey kid, how 'ya 'doin? You've got to bend your knees.' It's like it's already there."
Kirelawich now finds himself having to remind his defensive linemen to keep low more frequently because he's got more big guys on the roster to work with. In addition to Clarke, he's got 6-4 Miller and 6-6 Curtis Feight running around out there. All three can block out the sun and in this business, size does matter.
"My wingspan will help me out," said Clarke. "Being tall, I can separate myself. On those screens and low-trajectory passes maybe I can get my hands up and block one of them."
But Kirelawich wants his big guys to realize that their size can also be used against them at times.
"The motto for me and Curtis is, stay low and bend our knees," said Clarke. "They say our size is such a good advantage, just don't use it as a disadvantage."
Kirelawich is giving Clarke plenty of other things to think about, too.
"His famous words are, 'Don't be so quick to look in and see what is going on in the backfield. Feel the tackle and go where he is leading you,'" said Clarke. "We've just got to feel where they are taking us and eventually they will lead us to the ball."
The defensive coaches all say Clarke is improving. Is he ready to take reps in games this fall? Can Miller and Clarke play together? That's what they are trying to find out this spring.
The defensive staff has liked Will's upside from the moment two years ago when they were able to pluck him right out from under Pitt's noses. Clarke had made an oral commitment to the hometown Panthers before eventually changing his mind when he finally got to see West Virginia.
"It was during basketball season and I couldn't get a visit here and I didn't want to make my judgment off of what other schools told me," Clarke said. "I wanted to get my official down here first before I made any decisions."
Clarke obviously liked what he saw.
"It wasn't that Pitt wasn't the right fit," Clarke admitted. "I just liked Coach Kirelawich and I felt that Coach Stew was a good coach. I liked everything that Coach Kirelawich was teaching."
Clarke was a four-year starter at Alderdice High, helping his team to the city league championship game during his junior year. But his true football potential actually showed up on the basketball court where he averaged 16 points per game and helped his team to a 20-6 record. If a kid that big could move that well, coaches could only imagine the things he could do lined up outside a 300-pound tackle. That's why he became the first player at Alderdice to be recruited by a BCS school since Pitt's Curtis Martin two decades ago.
Now Clarke finds himself trying to fit into West Virginia's unusual, 3-3 stack defense that in the past has not had a lot of guys with Clarke's size playing in it.
"I'm just trying to work hard and listen to the older guys," he says. "There is no attitude or hard feelings when they say, OK, pick it up next time. I'm just listening and trying to learn all that I can?"
"I just want to be able to come out of my hips on the snap with good hand placement with a feeling that I have improved on my run defense and improved on my pass defense," said Clarke.
"I like the defense a lot. It's just me making myself adjust to the way that I have to play the defense the right way - low, square and with good angles."
Sounds like big Will is not just hearing Kirlav - he's listening, too.
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