Here’s to your health: Lions need an injury-free season from Clark
By Cory Giger,firstname.lastname@example.org
There will not be a player more important to his team in college football this fall than Daryll Clark will be to Penn State.
With Clark under center, the Nittany Lions have a chance to go 11-1 or 12-0 and play in a BCS bowl. The schedule is so weak that even an above-average PSU team could win the Big Ten and return to the Rose Bowl.
But if Clark gets hurt, the Lions could go 7-5 and end up in a toilet bowl.
The senior signal caller knows he must do everything he can to stay healthy for the good of the team.
"We've been talking about it a lot," Clark, in the middle of spring drills, told the Mirror on Tuesday.
"Obviously, running is a big part of my game, and I'm going to have to try to not take any unnecessary hits that can give me a concussion or sprain an ankle or some of those unfortunate things that can happen. That's an adjustment that I will make and realize that I can't get hurt."
The Lions could have a lot of holes this year after losing key receivers, offensive linemen and defensive backs. Still, the team should be good enough to win at least 10 games and possibly more because of the embarrassingly bad non-conference schedule and favorable Big Ten slate.
Losing Clark would be disastrous since the dropoff from the all-Big Ten quarterback to the second stringer is massive.
If the season started today, Clark's backup would be a walk-on, redshirt freshman Matt McGloin. However, true freshman Kevin Newsome figures to win the backup job this fall.
Pat Devlin won't be around to fill in like he did at Ohio State last year. He got tired of sitting the bench and transferred to Delaware.
So it's either Clark, a walk-on or a true freshman.
Keep that in mind every time you see Clark take a big hit this fall. Then gasp and hold your breath until he gets up.
It's not exactly soothing, either, knowing Clark will be playing behind a revamped, largely inexperienced offensive line.
Clark said McGloin has made good strides this spring and noted Newsome, who enrolled early so he could participate in spring drills, is showing promise.
"There's not a situation that they can't handle, and our coaches have done a good job of putting them in tight situations like two-minute drills at practice," Clark said. "But you know, practice is one thing, the game is another, and obviously experience comes with both."
Clark backed up Anthony Morelli for two years - or one year too long, as the benefit of hindsight shows - before enjoying an impressive 2008 season. He led the Lions to an 11-2 record while throwing for 2,592 yards, 19 TDs and six interceptions and completing 59.8 percent of his passes.
"I needed last year to become more comfortable being a leader," Clark said. "I think this is my job now. This is my job to lead this football team, and that's what I'm going to do."
Joe Paterno won't come right out and say it, but he knows the fate of his team depends on Clark staying healthy.
"He's a very, very fine quarterback," Paterno said on a teleconference Tuesday. "[He] can throw the ball really well, he's doing everything you want in a quarterback, he's great in the huddle, he's [great] in meetings. .... He's a real big league quarterback right now."
Clark's biggest breakthrough this spring has been in the leadership category. He shared that role with veterans like receiver Derrick Williams and center A.Q. Shipley last season, but the offense now belongs to him.
"Coach Joe made it evident that they needed me to step up and be the biggest leader on this football team because of what we lost last year," Clark said.
"I've taken on this role, full head of steam, and I've been doing really well with it. Some guys that may have a somewhat bad practice or whatever, I'm not the guy to yell at them or anything. That's not my place. I am a person that will call a player off to the side and encourage him to get better."
Personality and charisma?
Passing and running skills?
Clark has everything he needs to lead Penn State to another big season. The biggest thing the Lions need from him is simply to stay on the field.