Asked by reporters afterwards to explain his surprising performance--in which he was credited with no less than three sacks and a pass breakup--the sophomore lineman was just as unassuming. "I don't know. It just happened. I hope I made some strides. No, I don't think I did that well. I know I have to improve in a lot of areas. I just feel like I got a little bit better Saturday. That's all.
"I was really just trying to protect my ankle."
Of course that's what was most remarkable about Clark's work Saturday. Earlier in the week he sustained an ankle sprain which had him limping noticeably. "(Afterwards) Coach Eggen just told me to stay off my ankle," Clark said. "Don't do anything bad (to make it worse)."
"Gerard showed some mental toughness to come back and play like he did (Saturday)," Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said, "after being injured on Wednesday."
Clark signed with Alabama in 1999, after spending a year at prep school to become eligible. During his high school career Clark accounted for 262 tackles and 30 quarterback sacks.
At 6-6, 250+ pounds, the impressive-looking athlete was expected by many to make a quick impact. But Clark redshirted his first season at Alabama and saw no varsity action in 2001. "The speed of the game is the thing," Clark said. "It is a lot different from high school. Everybody is on a higher level. Faster. Stronger. It's not as easy.
"In high school I was the big, fast guy."
Like most big linemen, Clark had dominated in high school on raw talent alone. "When I got here I was just getting beat up," he said. "It was like I couldn't do anything to make any plays. I didn't weigh enough or something. The weight room and Coach Pollard has helped me. He's gotten me a little bit stronger. A little bit faster."
Based on his media guide numbers alone, most fans expected Clark to play right away. But the Tide coaches knew he needed work. "I'd say I'm a lot stronger," Clark related. "I didn't really lift weights in high school. I was benching maybe 340 or 350 when I got here. Now it's up to 425. I don't even remember my squat. It was low, though. I'm up to about 550 now. And the squat is hard for tall guys."
Physically, Clark's body type is more suited to defensive end. But last season D-Line Coach Stan Eggen worked Clark exclusively at tackle--a sort of baptism under fire to force him to learn to play with a low center of gravity. Clark explained, "Last year they had me playing D-tackle. I like defensive end a little bit better, though. You don't get double-teamed as much."
And along with Eggen's coaching, Clark has also benefited by listening and observing senior defensive end Kindal Moorehead. "I tried to watch Kindal when he was practicing," Clark said. "I got some of his techniques to help me out. He's been helping me out a lot since he's been hurt, too.
"He taught me to have a low pad level. To stay low. Basically getting off the ball. Timing the snaps. That kind of thing."