[Premium Article] A breakout season would be right in line with the high expectations Mississippi State junior defensive end Jason Clark has for himself and the Bulldogs in 2002."> [Premium Article] A breakout season would be right in line with the high expectations Mississippi State junior defensive end Jason Clark has for himself and the Bulldogs in 2002.">

MSU's Jason Clark Anxious to Become Impact Player

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/football/2003/clarkj.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="162"> [Premium Article] A breakout season would be right in line with the high expectations Mississippi State junior defensive end Jason Clark has for himself and the Bulldogs in 2002.

Following an all-American prep career with the hometown Starkville Yellowjackets, the 6-1, 244-pound hard-hitting defender has taken some big strides, but he still hasn't become the dominant player everyone has predicted.

Still he's played in 22 games in just two years with the Dogs and at times has shown flashes of brilliance. He had 10 tackles against the Florida Gators in an SEC engagement last September at The Swamp followed by eight stops in a league duel on the Auburn Plains, two of his five career starts. He's had to battle nagging injuries but the future looks bright.

Clark was named to the 2000 All-SEC Freshman team. He played in 11 games his freshman campaign, including a solid performance in MSU's exciting, 43-41, overtime win against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl.

"I've been here two years," said Clark while looking back over a short but productive career.

"I look at it this way," he said. "The first year, I became familiar with the speed of the game, and then the second year, I began to grasp the knowledge of the game. Now, I have to put them together, and go out there and play my heart out. I have confidence now."

Clark said he would like to contribute anyway that he can. "Wherever I'm needed I'm going to be there to help out in anyway I can, as a defensive end, as a linebacker, wherever."

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, dean of the SEC coaches, said Clark should make a big impact this fall.

"Jason has increased his strength," added Sherrill. "He's worked hard this summer and he's done well in the classroom. He should make a big impact on the field."

Clark was reunited with former Starkville Yellowjacket teammates, upon signing with the Bulldogs, All-American Barrin Simpson and Edward Yeates, both talented linebackers.

He said he's learned a lot from the two outstanding student athletes and now he can be there for former Starkville teammate Tee Milons who is beginning his first fall with the Dogs.

"Barrin was so inspirational and Edward, too," pointed out Clark. "Barrin taught me so much about things on and off the field, about reality. I'll always thank him for that.

"Barrin and Edward both took me in when I first got to Mississippi State and I'm just trying to do the same for Tee with him being from Starkville and it being his first year," explained Clark.

"We were teammates at Starkville and we're friends," said Clark of the highly-touted freshman receiver who helped lead the Yellowjackets to the 5A state championship in Bill Lee's first year at the helm. Milons set a new state record for TD catches in a single season with 20 his senior campaign with the Jackets.

Clark had over 400 career tackles with the Black & Gold and said he feels the time is right to once again become a dominating player.

"I feel like I have something to prove not only to my coaches and to the people who want to see me but to myself," said Clark, a hard-hitting defender who also played tight end in the prep ranks.

"I've been here at MSU for two years and I feel pretty good about myself but I feel like I could have done more to help my team," said Clark.

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn coaches the defensive ends where Clark is expected to line up this fall along with a talented group. Jim Tompkins coaches the linebackers.

Clark played as a linebacker under Tompkins his first two years but now falls under Dunn's domain.

"Coach "T" is hard-nosed guy," admits Clark. "I like playing under Coach Dunn, but they're both tough. I feel very comfortable with Coach Dunn as my position coach."

Clark said God has blessed him, blessed him with fine parents Laferne and Roosevelt Clark.

"My mother has been to every game she can. She inspires me," added Clark who is majoring in sociology.

Fellow teammate and All-American linebacker Mario Haggan, ticketed to roam the middle of the field for the Dogs his senior campaign, said Clark has all the tools.

"I think Jason Clark is a great player," said Haggan. "He's a person who strives to get better physically and stronger mentally. He's come to me asking advice on how I've been getting things done and what he needs to do to make his game better. I think he can help us out this year. I think he can do it."

Mississippi State opens its 2002 campaign against one of the top teams in the nation but Clark sees that as something positive.

"We've got a tough schedule, a tough first game (Oregon), but I think that's what we need to get back on the road to recovery," he said. "We've been working hard all summer thinking about the Oregon Ducks. It's a real challenge but I think we'll be ready."

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.

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