MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – As is usually the case with a dominant performance, the spotlight has been almost solely on the West Virginia University football team’s offense. But significant changes have occurred that call for attention on the defensive side of the ball as well.
This year’s defense is one that will feature several new faces, as familiar senior starters Najee Goode, Bruce Irvin, Julian Miller and Keith Tandy have fulfilled their eligibility as Mountaineers.
And with more than 100 student-athletes on the team and only 11 players on the field at one time, you can be sure there are plenty of players ready and willing to take on the workload.
One such player is redshirt-junior defensive end Will Clarke. A 6-foot-6, 265-pound athlete out of Pittsburgh, Clarke has spent the better part of three years learning under the likes of Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, waiting for his turn to come.
Now the wait is over.
Having added playing time to his resume during the team’s record-setting 2011 season, and due to the loss of some solid defensive players, Clarke has now found himself stepping up to fill a leadership void.
And he’s not the only one.
“It’s more of a collective noise instead of just individual,” he explained. It’s more of a unit leadership rather than one person just stepping up and declaring themselves as a leader.
“It’s always good to have that one vocal leader and that one standout guy, but it’s also good to have a bunch of vocal leaders because that means that people aren’t afraid to step up and speak and lead the team.”
According to Clarke, redshirt-senior defensive lineman Jorge Wright and redshirt-senior defensive end J.B. Lageman, along with some of the younger members of the team such as Shaq Rowell, have also been doing their part and making their voices heard.
Even senior Terence Garvin, who’s currently sidelined due to a knee surgery performed before the Orange Bowl, has been offering advice to his teammates when they come over to the sidelines.
This type of group leadership isn’t delegated to just the defensive side of the ball, either. The offensive players have instituted a similar style of leadership as well.
“It seems like the whole offense is talking, from the offensive line to the running backs to the quarterbacks,” said Clarke. “It really is more collective as a team.” With this style of leadership in place, it’s really not surprising that the defensive players seem to be picking up the new schemes quickly.
“It doesn’t surprise me really because a lot of the guys feel like they have more of a free responsibility,” detailed Clarke. “The way this scheme is applied allows the responsibility to be less about thinking and more about reacting.”
The scheme also allows for players to learn the aspects of every position, as outside players are learning to play on the inside and inside players are learning to play on the outside. It’s a critical factor as West Virginia prepares to enter Big 12 Conference play in the fall.
“We’re going to a different conference; teams might be bigger, faster and stronger so this is helping us out by teaching us all of the positions,” Clarke reiterated.
Clarke is most familiar at defensive end, where he recorded 36 total tackles including 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass break-up last season. But his speed also allows him a dangerous advantage when placed on the inside.
Clarke is also one of the more experienced players on a defensive line that will need time to jell in West Virginia's brand new 3-4 scheme.
"We do have young guys," said co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. "We will try to keep it simplistic for those guys and not try to do too much. We want to try and build something with those guys, and we are working towards that with each practice."
Regardless of what position Clarke finds himself playing this season, he will undoubtedly be an important asset for the Mountaineers as they head into a new conference, which also happens to be one of the best football leagues in the country.