Interview: Matt Clark

Senior cornerback <b>Matt Clark</b> is having an All Pac-10-worthy season. He reflects on his years at UCLA, coming in unheralded, having to make up for his size, and what his senior year has meant to him. He also identifies the most difficult receiver he's had to defend...

Senior cornerback Matt Clark reflects on his career at UCLA.

Being just a couple of weeks away from your final home game of your UCLA career. Talk about what that means to you. You came in as somewhat of a sleeper.

"When I came to UCLA, not too many people knew about me. We had big-time recruits. My cousin, Matt Ware, and others. And there were other corners rated ahead of me. When I got here I established myself. I thought I actually could have played a little earlier, maybe my sophomore year when they moved my cousin to safety. I was competing with Joe Hunter. Everything worked out. I played under Ricky Manning and my cousin, and I learned a lot from them. They taught me a lot. It's been a blessing. Just working so hard my junior year and this past summer, and coming up, everything is paying off for me now."

Did you think coming in fairly unknown you had a bit of a chip on your shoulder?

"Definitely. I've always, since I was young, had to prove myself because of my size. Everybody always doubted me. I deal with that pretty well, and handle myself pretty well I think. I think I handled myself well the four years I've been here. All the hard work is definitely paying off. Like I said, it's a blessing."

After starting last season, it seemed like there were still some doubts about you coming into this season, but you pretty much have dispelled them. Do you feel like you've improved?

"I gained a lot of experience my junior year. It wasn't the type of year I wanted to have. I wish I could have had a better junior year, and been able to put myself out there more. But just being in the system, and under the coaches, I definitely picked up a whole lot coverage-wise and technique-wise. I spent a lot of time with Ricky working on technique, and it's helped me out tremendously this year. And being in the system. Just being out there and getting that experience. Last year, that was my real first year, my first career start, and I was a little nervous. Just having that one year of experience under my belt really helped me out a lot."

Do you think that the advantage you gain in experience could be that, by the time you're a senior, you're competing against so many players that are younger and less experienced than you are?

"There have been a lot of younger guys at receiver it seems that I've covered. Many of them are starting this year. They're D-1 athletes and they're all good if they made it this far. But I think I've only faced a couple of seniors this year, like Geoff McArthur from Cal. I can't remember too many more. There were a lot of younger guys."

Is there a big distinction between an older receiver and a less experienced receiver?

"Definitely. You can see it in them, the experience. With younger guys you can get more aggressive. I always go into it, though, whether they're seniors, juniors or freshmen, not taking anyone lightly. I have the mindset to go out there no matter who they are and lock them down."

Who would you rather cover - a more experienced receiver or a more talented receiver?

"I'd rather cover the more talented receiver, just because of the challenge, whether he's a freshman or a senior. There are a lot of young guys now out there that are stepping up and playing big. I definitely always want to match up against them."

Who's easier to defend, though?

"Oh, probably the easiesr one to defend would be the more experienced one. If they have really great talent, you can't really do anything about it. The ones with experience, though, also have their ways to get advantages."

Who was the toughest receiver you've faced while at UCLA?

"I think since I've been here the toughest receiver I covered was Michael Clayton, from Oklahoma. I didn't have a really bad game, but he is a fast receiver. He's not a really big receiver, he's not tall. He's about 5-10 or 5-9. But he's super fast and has really good hands, and is a good route runner."

Better than the bigger receivers like Reggie Williams or Mike Williams?

"Yeah. I'm not taking anything away from Reggie Williams or Mike Williams. Those big, tall receivers are tough. That's where they get their advantage from, from being really big. But as far as route-running, Michael Clayton is the better receiver by far."

Is speed tougher to defend than size?

"Definitely. Because with size, they can try to body you more, and use it to shield you off, but you can always been in position. And if you're in position to play a big receiver, the size doesn't really bother me too much. But a fast receiver he'll get his routes, because they're stopping on a dime, and accelerating, so it's harder to get position with them."

So, have you been satisfied with your senior year?

"Yeah. I put in a lot of hard work last spring, and this winter. I think it's paying off for me. I don't know how many pass break-ups I have. I have a couple more interceptions, and I wouldn't mind getting a couple more to end my career here. But overall, I'm just really happy to be part of the defense and the whole team. We've proved a lot of people wrong. And I think our defense is getting better and stepping up. The secondary has always been doing pretty well this year. And the d-line has surprised me with how they're improving. Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with what I've done personally, too."

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