Tight end arrives early

With incoming freshman set to report August fourth, that's the date circled on most fans' calendars as the official start of fall practice. Of course many of the Tide newcomers will choose to get a jump on things by enrolling early for the second summer term. But Donald Clarke, a tight-end hopeful from Fort Scott Community College, is already on campus. "I've been in Tuscaloosa a little over two weeks now," Clarke said. "I got here June 4th, and it's really been nice."

Of course working out daily under a hot Alabama sun, the word ‘nice' is definitely a relative term. But Clarke can handle it. "I'm used to it," he said. "I'm from Florida (Boca Raton), so the heat isn't too much of a problem. I've just got to learn my way around."

With starter Terry Jones Jr. set to graduate after this season, Clarke should get an excellent shot at earning playing time this year at tight end.

Arriving early to get acclimated to classes is a common strategy for transfer students, but the former All-Conference player at Fort Scott Community College has physical goals in mind as well. "Once I get in shape I'll be all right," Clarke related. "But right now I've still got a ways to go. I'm better off than when I started, though. When I first came out here it was rough, but over time you get in better shape."

"We worked in junior college, but the level wasn't the same at all," Clarke continued. "When I first got here it was rough. I was close to making some decisions, but I fought through it. But it's way different--way different."

Of course looming responsible for that ‘way different' workout level is Ben Pollard, Alabama's Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Football, operating under a mandate from Dennis Franchione to whip the squad into peak condition. "Coach Pollard is the man," Clarke said. "He knows his stuff. Whatever he says I'm going to listen to him, because he knows what he's doing. Before I even got here I've been keeping track of him and seeing how the workout program has been going. Plus, I heard about the Night of Champions, so things have been going real good."

Listed at 6-6, 260 pounds, Clarke arrives at Alabama with impressive credentials. He played his high school football at Spanish River in Boca Raton, Florida and then was a All-Conference pick while playing for Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College. Best known for his blocking and receiving abilities, Clarke was a first team All-County pick as a prep senior. And with three-year starter Terry Jones Jr. entering his senior season at The Capstone, the Tide coaches made tight end a priority last recruiting season. Clarke chose Alabama over Oregon State, Miss. State, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado.

Like most Division IA athletes, Clarke's abilities mean he could contribute at several positions on the football field. But there's no mystery where he'll begin at Alabama. "Tight end is it," Clarke said. "That's been my position all my life, junior high and high school, too. I never played quarterback or anything else. I've stayed at tight end.

"I'm mainly featured as a blocking tight end. But I'm not just an extra offensive tackle. It's nice to know that I can catch some passes, too. But most of my life I've been featured as a blocking tight end. I haven't really had a shot to be seen as a receiver."

After graduating from junior college, Clarke arrived early in Tuscaloosa to work out and get in shape for fall two-a-days.

Though he arrives at Alabama after graduating from junior college, interestingly Clarke has three years of eligibility left, having redshirted one year at Fort Scott. "This is my third year of college," he explained. "So I hope to get on the field this year--hopefully. I want to make myself known and make my way out there. Try to create a spot for myself."

And by arriving ahead of the other incoming players, Clarke has gotten a jump on bonding with his new teammates. "It's tight. The team is real tight together," he related. "I can see it like a family, and it's building every day, getting closer and closer. I like that.

"There's only one thing that can result from that, and that's positive. I really like the team atmosphere and the togetherness. I see myself fitting in really well."

But in addition to academics and fitting in socially, Clarke has specific goals to pursue over the next few weeks as he prepares for the start of fall practice. "The big thing for me is learning the plays. Getting in shape, learning the plays and getting a little closer with some of the players," he said. "I've met some (of the guys), and I'm getting closer. But if I learn everything, then hopefully I can fit in and carry my share."

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