Clark Putting His Best Foot Forward

Sophomore Steven Clark has been a bright spot for the Auburn football Tigers, who wrapped up on-the-field preparations on Thursday evening for their road trip to play the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn special teams coach Jay Boulware says he has been encouraged by the progress he has been seeing from punter Steven Clark. An excellent example of the sophomore's improvement was on display last Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Clark's high punts were covered perfectly by his teammates, forcing South Carolina Gamecocks to start offensive possessions backed up at their four, one, 11, 12 and 12 yard lines in Auburn's 16-13 victory.

"He has plenty of leg strength so that has never been a problem with Steven," Boulware said. "The area he has needed to improve on is his consistency and he has made a lot of progress with that."

Five weeks into the season he has progressed enough to earn the honor of SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Coach Gene Chizk's Tigers are 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC heading into Saturday's 6 p.m. road game at Arkansas. Chizik said that Clark, and the special teams groups in general, are a major reason why the Tigers are still unbeaten in conference play.

Clark said it is an "incredible" feeling to be a major contributor to his team's success. "You always do your best to try to change the outcome of the game and help the team out, but to be able to able to do it so many times, and actually succeed in doing it, definitely feels good after working on that stuff all week and then in the game it definitely happens. It is kind of a tribute of hard work coming together."

Clark and the Tigers will face their second consecutive road test this week vs. a Top 10 opponent. Chizik put the Tigers through a light practice on Thursday evening preparing for Arkansas. The coach said after the workout he is expecting a physical game on Saturday, something that has been the case in the previous five Auburn vs. Arkansas games he has been a part of as defensive coordinator or head coach.

The Tigers worked for a little more than an hour on the game plan for Saturday's contest vs. the 10th-ranked Razorbacks, who are 4-1 overall and 0-1 in SEC play after defeating Texas A&M 42-38 last Saturday in Dallas.

Saturday's game will be televised from Reynolds-Razorback Stadium with coverage on ESPN. Auburn has a 5-3-1 record in previous appearances in Fayetteville and leads the series 11-8-1.

Two of Auburn's key performers are doubtful for the contest. Starting cornerback Chris Davis and leading wide receiver Emory Blake are trying to recover from ankle injuries. "It doesn't look good," Chizik said on Thursday night about the possibility of getting Blake ready to play by Saturday night.

Emory Blake

The head coach gave another thumbs up review to Thursday's practice after praising his Tigers for their preparations earlier in the week. "Our practices were really focused," Chizik said. "The kids are practicing with a lot of energy."

Auburn won last year's game vs. the Razorbacks 65-43 and on the Tigers' last appearance in Fayetteville they lost 44-23.

Clark played a variety of positions as a high school standout in Kansas City, Mo., but what attracted Auburn's attention was the potential he showed as a punter in winning a national competition at kicking guru Jamie Cole's summer camp in Wisconsin.

Last season as a true freshman was the first time Clark had concentrated on punting a football. "In high school I played other positions so I kind of just got back there and kicked it," he said. "I never really worried about thinking that much."

Now that Clark is doing it on a full-time basis, he is sweating the details. He has been consistently good through Auburn's first five games, but admits over the summer he was still tinkering with his mechanics.

"I have been working on just trying to get consistency with my form and making good contact with it, which has definitely helped a lot," he said.

Auburn emphasizes special teams play and the head coach and Boulware were displeased that Clark punted two balls into the end zone for touchbacks in game four vs. Florida Atlantic. He did not have any vs. South Carolina although he came close with a boomer that the sophomore was concerned was heading into the end zone before being caught at the one-yard line by Neiko Thorpe, something the Tigers have practiced doing countless times at practice in the past two months.

"The coaches really harped on giving us a chance (to down the football)," Clark said on the art of making an opponent start near its goal line.

Clark's success at South Carolina came on a day in which he noted the "wind was blowing all over the place" depending on what part of the field he was punting from. "One time it had me a little worried in the warmup," he said. "One time I was trying to kick sky punts and the wind just stopped it and was throwing it back at me."

Clark pointed out that once he got his kicking motion in sync during preseason drills his consistency has carried over to the regular season. "Coach Chizik always said once you start doing good in practice it will start translating to games," he said. "I think it is getting there."

Arkansas Practice Report


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