Last Practices Are Pleasure For Old Dog Clark
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Last Practices Are Pleasure For Old Dog Clark

Another December. Another bowl game. Another round of scouting an entirely different opponent. Yet nobody can call Arceto Clark bored by this routine. "Knowing that your time is winding down, you'd probably rather be practicing. Because you know you're going to miss it."

Yes, believe it or not, of all the things Clark will miss about being a Bulldog ball player, practice is right up near the top of that list. Or perhaps it ought not be so surprising. After all, when one tallies all their hours, collegians will spend far, far more time together doing something other than playing football. Locker room. Weight room. Training room. Team meals. Travel.

It adds up and is not nearly as interesting as pulling on the pads and doing football stuff, even against each other. So no wonder then old Dog Clark has had such a fine time during these days of preparing for the Gator Bowl. Not just him, either, but his senior class mates.

"We're clowning around, just reminiscing over the good times," said Clark said of the bowl camp routine. "Oh, when we go over there we're working, too. Coach Balis is running us, so they don't let you have too much time off around here."

Still there have been moments for Mississippi State seniors to recall those good times, and there've been plenty of them over their career courses under Coach Dan Mullen. These four seasons together have produced 29 wins with the opportunity to register #30 on New Years Day.

Of course Clark is something of an unusual case in this class. He is among the eight Bulldogs still on the active roster who enrolled in 2008, recruited by the previous staff. Only 2007 freshman Marcus Green can trump this troop. So Clark is one who understands well just how radically things have changed for Bulldog football, for the better.

Or for Clark himself. His was a convoluted career in the early years. Clark was activated eight games deep into his true freshman season as a wide receiver with just three catches to show for it; then sidelined for Mullen's first season and practiced at cornerback. At least the suspension mooted fan complaints about his being played in '08 rather than redshirted, because Clark got to sit a year anyway. And having seen the field he was the better for it.

Because once back in good graces, and on offense, Clark became a model of MSU consistency. He had 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns in 2010, and followed that up with 30 grabs for 442 yards and four scores as a junior. This senior season is the best of all with career-highs of 33 receptions and 451 yards in just the regular dozen games. Clark has the Gator Bowl to add to that total, too.

And, to address the lone void in his senior resume: he hasn't scored yet this year. Yes, Clark said, he does want to get that 2012 season resume on the first day of 2013. "It would be nice!"

Clark doesn't begrudge his cohorts all their touchdowns either, as his fellow seniors Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith, and Marcus Green have gotten into plenty of end zones. This has been a topic of bowl-camp discussion of course. "A lot of the older guys hang out on the side and talk about the good times, just having fun."

Not that the old Dogs have only been talking among themselves. See, part of being an upperclassman in bowl season is passing along a career's worth of lessons to the youngsters. Call it establishing a legacy or setting an example or whatever. Clark has been sharing his experiences with the underclass wideouts who are already staking claims to the soon-to-be-open starting jobs.

And the personnel is here to keep Mississippi State's passing plans on the fast pace Clark so enjoyed this season.

"It's good to see guys like Joe or RoJo or Holloway coming along," Clark said. "We've been knowing that they had that in them, but just them getting more time out here you're getting to see them make more plays." Plays that are ‘coached' by players who have been making them for-real this season, right, Coach Clark?

"Yeah, it's always good when you can I guess relax a little bit and watch the younger guys do what they do, and have fun."

Another part of the bowl-practice fun has been getting a look at who is to be throwing passes next fall. Naturally Tyler Russell merits most attention after a record-setting junior season of his own. His strong right arm is what the Bulldog offense will be built around in 2013 again. But then there is the ever-improving talents of Dak Prescott to take into account. Fans have only seen what the second-year freshman can do in package settings this year; Clark has seen the whole package.

"I see a young guy that's going to be good. He works extremely hard. He tries to push everybody around him, he's a young leader. I see a lot of potential in him."

Potential which Clark's heirs can exploit. For him, January 1 in Jacksonville is the last chance to run routes and catch passes whoever is throwing them. And only victory is an acceptable way to graduate. It's just that there is a talented and tough-minded team standing between Clark and a fine final score. Scouting for Northwestern began for him Sunday evening and now there have been two practices put in.

"They're a team that is going to play hard, you can't overlook them," said Clark of the Wildcats, particularly the defense. "They're just a fundamentally sound team. A team that is going to go out and do the little things." And bowl season success often does hinge on addressing the little things when utterly-unfamiliar foes meet on a neutral field.

But Clark has been through this December drill twice already. In fact he and other seniors can become the first Bulldog bunch ever to record three-consecutive bowl victories. This tends to keep veterans on their toes, taking nothing for granted.

"Yeah, you can't overlook anybody. You have to come ready to attack as if it is any other team." By the same token though this is not just any other game for Clark and classmates. That is why something they once looked upon as a grind is something strangely precious. "So I'd rather be practicing."

"It's been a long season but it's also been fun, just being around my teammates having grown so close over the years."