Will To Learn

Mountaineer defensive end Will Clarke may have redshirted as a true freshman last season, but after practicing under the ever-watchful eye of position coach Bill Kirelawich for a year and evaluating his own play, the Pittsburgh native feels ready to contribute in 2010.

As he arrived in Morgantown a little over a year ago, Clarke was somewhat similar to fellow defensive lineman Julian Miller early in Miller's WVU career -- undersized and inexperienced at his position.

But like Miller, Clarke benefited greatly from a redshirt year. The alumnus of Taylor Allderdice High in the Steel City gained about 20 pounds of muscle over that time, and will play this season at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds.

The benefits of taking a redshirt last season were more than physical, however. Clarke said being at the college level and getting pointers on how to play his position from Kirelawich -- both on the field and in the film room -- has been invaluable.

"I feel like if I was to play football again in high school, it would be totally different, because you see it all on the film," Clarke said. "Everything is critiqued so much, from your stance, to the way you come out, your step, hips, hand placement, which way you shed the guy -- everything is critical. So it's a lot different from playing back in the City League."

At Allderdice, Clarke helped lead his team to the city championship game as a junior. He initially verbally committed to attend Pittsburgh, but changed his mind after a visit to the West Virginia campus. Either way, he was sure to become the first player from his high school to play at the BCS level since Curtis Martin was a Panther.

Clarke found success in the City League at least in part because he was an imposing physical presence at the linebacker spot he played at Allderdice. But that changed when he got to college and was suddenly undersized for a defensive linemen.

No longer could he simply rely on brute strength to win battles on the football field. He had to learn the finer points of the game.

"In high school, you might think like, ‘Okay, I made this play. I did what I was supposed to do,'" Clarke said. "Then you get here and do the same thing, Coach blows the whistle. ‘That's wrong. Do it over.' So I'm learning, educating myself."

So to learn, Clarke sat back and watched the trio of starters along the Mountaineers' typical three-man front -- Scooter Berry, Chris Neild and Miller. Given his propensity to play from the edge, he paid special attention to Berry and Miller.

"I just try to mimic what they do," Clarke said. "I try to imitate each move, step, playing low, their hand placement -- everything they do. When they see me trying and giving effort to get better, they like it, and I know that they try to help me out more."

The work has apparently paid off, as Clarke finds himself on one end of the front four in WVU's "40" (or nickel) package. There, he gets to spend further time learning from Berry, as the fifth-year senior lines up just beside Clarke in that set.

"From Scooter, I'm learning a lot about when to make the cuts to come inside, about getting leverage on the tackle, how fast I should go when we're running stunts," Clarke said.

If anything, the "40" line-up is a way for Clarke to get back to the style of play that suited him well in high school -- playing with reckless abandon, doing whatever it takes to get in the backfield.

But he insists it won't hinder his development as the Mountaineers prepare for life after Berry and Neild, who are both seniors this season.

"Sometimes, guys get stuck in that [three-man front] stance," Clarke said. "In the ‘40' stance, you just get down in that pass rushing stance and you just go. The object is to just fly and get off the edge. So I think, sometimes people get that mixed up."

While the redshirt freshman is likely to step onto the playing field in a college game for the first time this season, he likely won't be easily intimidated.

Clarke did travel with the team last year, and seeing what his teammates had to deal with in hostile environments like Auburn has helped him know that even the smaller details of playing the game require special attention.

"There were times when the defense couldn't hear," he said.

"I think about places like [Auburn]. For example, like LSU, how it will be loud and how we have to learn our playbook and know our signals better."

But those are concerns for further down the road. With preseason training camp just nearing the halfway point, Clarke is focused on fine-tuning his own game, both in the special four-down front and in the team's normal three-man alignment.

In the process, he is building strong relationships with the upperclassmen who are teaching him on the field every day -- a critical component to line play on either side of the football.

"Every day, we're working on building our chemistry," Clarke said.

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