VU's Lea talks about Wooden Trophy nomination

Vanderbilt senior fullback <B>Clark Lea</b> travels to Los Angeles Jan. 10 as one of six nominees for the prestigious John Wooden Trophy. Named for the legendary UCLA basketball coach, the trophy goes to one college athlete each year who exhibits character, sportsmanship and civic responsibility. Lea gave VandyMania his thoughts on his nomination, as well as his inside perspectives on the football team's prospects for 2005.

Ed. note: Clark Lea was a decorated high school football star at Nashville-Montgomery Bell Academy, graduating in 2000. After two years spent at smaller colleges playing baseball, Lea walked onto the Vanderbilt football team in 2002 and won a spot as a backup fullback. He played for three seasons and was eventually awarded a scholarship for his efforts.

VandyMania: Clark, some fans are probably a little unfamiliar with the Wooden Trophy, and wonder why a football player would be up for a trophy named after a basketball coach. What are some of the things they are looking for when they nominate someone for this award?

Clark Lea: They select one collegiate and one professional athlete in the country. I'm one of six finalists. They look for athletes that basically display the characteristics that define Coach Wooden's career, including community service, work ethic, integrity and things like that. It's a big honor, and I think it speaks more towards a player's attitude and a player's desire more than actual on the field achievement.

VandyMania: You've already been selected Academic All-SEC in 2003. Talk about some of the other things you've done which led to your being nominated for the Wooden Trophy.

Clark Lea: Well, my understanding is, and I don't really know much about the nomination process, I know that Rod Williamson called me and told me that the athletic department had nominated me for the award. I think a couple of coaches might have written some recommendations and things like that. It took off. I think it starts out with about 200 people, and from there it dwindles down, now there's six left. One of the things they look at is community service. I've tried to be as active as I could in the community, representing the Vanderbilt football team. I've done things with the Vanderbilt Childrens Hospital, local elementary schools, and I'm on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.

I'm trying to be as active as my schedule will allow in the community. I'm just trying to represent the University as best I can when I'm out and about, on the town, just in everyday situations. I think anytime you wear a Vanderbilt shirt, people see you and know who you are and what you do and I think it's important to know that the eyes of the community are on you.

Another part of it is work ethic. I've tried over my career at Vanderbilt to do whatever I can to help this program. Whether that's in summer conditioning, in the weight room, in the classroom or on the practice field, I've tried to lay it on the line everyday. It's just an honor to be recognized for that. That's some of the stuff, I don't really know about what was written on the application.

VandyMania: So what do you think your chances of winning this thing are?

Clark Lea: People have asked me that and said "Hey, have you thought about what you'd do if you win?", I think for me it's more about just getting the opportunity to go out there. At this point it is not about winning or losing, it's an honor enough just to be nominated. I've been so excited about getting a trip to Los Angeles and getting to shake hands with some of these people that are going to be involved with this award at a time when the sports world has lost a little of integrity. You have incidents like the Pistons-Pacers brawl and that sort of thing. It's going to be refreshing to be with a group of people that all compete in all parts of their respective game in a way that's respectable. It's going to be really fun to be with a group of people like that. I'm looking forward to meeting the other athletes, Coach Wooden and people involved with this award.

VandyMania: When is this award going to be finalized or presented?

Clark Lea: The ceremony is January 10. I'm actually flying out on January 5. I decided to make a trip out of it. I'm excited. We'll see the city. Jan. 10 is the ceremony, and on the next day I'll fly back home for school.

VandyMania: Your dad is a doctor. Are you planning on following in his footsteps? What are your plans after school?

Clark Lea: No, it's funny, I've never been much of a science guy, I got my degree in Political Science, so I'm working towards a Masters in Politcal Science. Ultimately, I'm passionate about the game of football and I want to coach. Initially my goal is to coach at the collegiate level. An important part of that process is to find a graduate assistant position. Being a GA is a great way to get your hands dirty and get the feel from the experts of how things work. That's kind of what I'm in the process of doing, just looking at where those opportunities are right now. I think ultimately, I'm passionate about sports, and I'm a firm believer in how I can affect a young man or women's life. I think coaches have played an important role in my life, in high school at MBA and in college.

Every step of the way coaches have played an important role in my life and I'd like to have the same positive influence on young athletes lives.

VandyMania: Now onto more football, with Matthew Tant leaving and you leaving, who do you see as taking over the starting position at fullback in 2005?

Clark Lea: I think that is going to be an important question that is going to need to be addressed in the spring. As much as I would have loved to see Tant play another year, he's got to make a decision that is best for him and I completely respect that. I think he is going to have successful career playing professionally. Matthew is as hard a worker as we have on the team, he's dedicated and he really lays it on the line for everybody. He's going to be successful in whatever he does.

As far as the vacancy goes, that's going to be an important battle in the spring. That's a position for all the fans to watch. You have two freshmen they brought in, Zach Logan and David Whittington, and also an upperclassman, Ron Bullock, who's been moved from tailback. It's going to be serious competition. You have three guys that all want the position badly, and they are willing to work for it. In the end, whoever comes out the victor in that battle is going to take the spot.

Cassen Jackson-Garrison played some at fullback last year and I think he might be utilized there more this coming fall. I think they want to find a way to get him the ball whatever way they can. He's a great athlete, and he's going to be an asset to our team in the future. I think ultimately he might split some time (between tailback and fullback). Like I said, that is going to be an important competition in the spring between those three guys-- the two freshmen Zach Logan and David Whittington, and Ron Bullock.

VandyMania: There are a lot of folks saying, including the NFL Draft publication on our network, that because Matthew Tant and Jovan Haye are going pro that that might be an indicator as to possible trouble in the Vanderbilt program. What do you have to say to that?

Clark Lea: I don't know that this program has ever been any stronger than it is right now. I realize that from an outsider's perspective that it doesn't necessarily look good. People make decisions based on their own personal well-being. You have to make the decision that puts you in the best position to be successful. Jovan had a great junior year. He had a great redshirt sophomore year too. He felt like his stock was hot for the draft, and he took advantage of the opportunity and left. Matthew did the same thing. Matthew felt like this was his best chance to make it to the next level. I don't necessarily think this speaks poorly of the program.

What Coach Johnson and his staff have done is they have built a young core, and they are getting these guys to step up. Lamar Divens had a tremendous year; he made strides. Theo Horrocks is a great player and he is going to get better every time he steps on the practice field and works hard. David Carter too. You can go through a long list of names of guys that are going to be step up and play their positions well. The team's going to be OK. Their attitude is very positive. I've been able to talk to some of the younger players, and I'll tell you, the week after the Tennessee game those guys came back and were working HARD immediately. I was amazed. People were in the weight room throwing weights around. We have got young guys who are going to step up and are ready to win games. They don't want to have another year like they had this year, and they are ready to get going.

I would just say that things are positive right now. Everyone is confident in Coach Johnson and his staff. They've done a great job of motivating and people are going to keep working to get better.

VandyMania: So what are your plans for the holidays?

Clark Lea: I'm going to be in [Nashville]. I'll be going out to Los Angeles. I'm planning on going down to the Liberty Bowl. I think that's going to be a great game to watch, Louisville and Boise State.

VandyMania: Are you rooting for one of those two teams?

Clark Lea: I'm really going down to just see the fireworks; I don't really know whom to root for necessarily. In the end, Louisville is in the Southeast and it's close by, so I'll probably be rooting for Louisville.

VandyMania: Clark, on behalf of all Vandy fans, thanks for your hard work, and we wish you the best of luck on the award.

Clark Lea: Thank you! Top Stories