A new man

Most athletes make great strides from their first year to the second. A year in the weight room--and at the training table--can work wonders on a growing youngster. That has certainly been true for Jeremy Clark. <br><br>"I don't think I'm even the same athlete I was last year," Clark said.

"In many ways I'm better," he continued. "I'm stronger and a little bit quicker. And I have a whole different mindset than when I first stepped on a college campus."

Clark's total weight has only gone up 10 pounds, but his overall body change has been remarkable. Gone is the baby fat, replaced by toned muscle. But for all his physical improvement, Clark lists a change in mindset as the biggest difference.

Jeremy Clark worked hard in the off-season, adding strength and bulk to handle the defensive tackle position.

He explained, "I'm much more competitive than I was last year. Thinking back to last year, I didn't think I had much chance of playing. But this fall I saw the chance to play early. That's where my competitive mentality came from."

Head Coach Mike Shula talked about the redshirt freshman. "He's a physical, tough player," Shula said. "Jeremy has a good feel for the game. That toughness is both physical and mental. When he gets tired he's learned that he can push himself through."

Since arriving last fall, Clark has also switched positions. He starred in high school at defensive end, but tackle will be his stock-in-trade at Alabama.

Defensive Tackles Coach Buddy Wyatt likes to say that athletes play on the defensive line, but it takes a grown man to play defensive tackle. "I'm definitely ready; I'm ready to play on the inside," Clark said. "I've worked hard ever since I got here to be able to handle that.

"I think I'm physically and mentally ready to play inside."

Clark signed with Alabama in February of 2002 as one of the top line prospects in the state. He earned All-State honors his senior year, the latest in a string of top athletes from Daphne High School that included Kenny King and Atlas Herrion.

Clark knew he would get significant playing time this year, but when the pre-season depth chart was released earlier this week his name was listed first-string at defensive tackle.

Only a redshirt freshman, Clark will still be counted on as a prime member of Bama's playing rotation.

"Logically, I shouldn't be starting; that's true," Clark said. "Most redshirt freshmen shouldn't start."

Nagging injuries kept Ahmad Childress off the practice field and on the exercise bike for much of fall camp, which opened the door for Clark.

"I didn't really think about the depth chart," Clark said. "Even when Childress was hurt, and I was working with the first team. Last spring I worked with the first team, but Ahmad was still ahead of me. I just think about practicing as hard as I can, trying to get my technique right.

"I just wanted to go out and play football. I wasn't concerned about starting."

How long he stays first string doesn't concern Clark in the least. He just wants to play. "It's just a matter of coming out and playing as hard as I can. I've worked every day trying to learn. Mentally absorbing as much information as you can and trying to take it onto the field. Get better every day."

Expect Alabama to play up to five athletes in its game-day rotation at tackle. Clark, Childress and Anthony Bryant are the top three, with sophomore Taylor Britt and true freshman Dominic Lee filling out the prime rotation. And if redshirt freshman Kyle Tatum can get healthy, he should help as well.

"I feel good about those guys," Shula said of his D-Tackle group, "especially if they stay healthy. Those backup defensive linemen have got to play, because I want our guys to be fresh in the fourth quarter."

Clark says he doesn't really pay attention to the depth chart, he just wants to play.

Without question, the development of redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark has a lot to do with Shula's confidence. As much as any athlete on the squad, Clark has worked to put himself into a position to contribute.

"Jeremy flashed early and has been consistent through fall camp," Shula said. "He's got good quickness and size for the position."

Though Shula says he expects the top three players to get relatively equal reps in the game, as it stands now, Clark will likely get the start this Saturday versus South Florida.

Will he be nervous?

"I don't think it's hit me yet, but by Friday it'll kick in," Clark replied with a laugh. "I'm sure it will, especially when I go into the stadium.

"But I've got to shake off all those jitters and be ready to play ball by 2 o'clock."

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