MADISON – Corey Clement boasted that he needed a fresh start.
At the beginning of spring camp in March, Clement had ditched the No.6 for a new number 24. He claimed that he wanted to change his mind set and attitude with his approach, and that a new number – “a workhorse number” he called it – would help him get there.
No more than a few practices later Clement was back to his old number six, a sign that it was going to take more than new fabric to change his way of life.
“I had to let people know that I had to leave the past in the past, that I could leave that behind and still take a positive step,” Clement said. “Leaving that at the door, I can still walk in the front door and let people know that I’ve arrived to a different person, but I can still hold the same old demeanor as how I use to work. I come out each day knowing number six is me.”
One of only 15 seniors on the fall camp roster, which opens for Wisconsin tomorrow morning, Clement was all smiles during Wisconsin’s annual media, showing no signs of the personal hell he went through last season.
After proclaiming at last year’s Big Ten Media Days that 2015 was going to be known as the “uprising of Corey Clement,” he suffered sports hernia injuries that kept him away from 100 percent health the entire year, a fight in his campus apartment that earned him a disorderly conduct situation and that he compounded by lying about it to the Wisconsin staff (he didn’t travel with the team to the regular season finale at Minnesota) and an ankle injury that cut short his bowl game.
Instead of declaring for the draft, he was left humbled by the process, not feeling his body get fully rid of the aches and pains until the middle of March. It’s part of the reason he chooses to be humble and, more appropriately, appreciative for the journey that has got him to this point.
“A lot of things have been thrown my way, good and bad,” Clement said. “That has made me stronger.”
A year after wanting to lead with his production, Clement is trying to lead by example and from a senior standpoint.
Asked about his group, Clement has praised Dare Ogunbowale’s leadership, Taiwan Deal’s mental toughness and Bradrick Shaw’s growth. If he looks into the mirror, Clement should see a little bit of the praises he sung about his teammates.
It’s been validated by how he’s handled practices, focusing on the next rep instead of looking miles down the road, and making sure he’s teaching the young tailbacks.
“The drive mentality, I’m taking each play, whether it’s a scrimmage play or not, and treating it as a real play,” Clement said, adding he tried to avoid complacency. “I try to grade myself very hard every time I step out on the field, just wishing for that opportunity if coach did put me in for a play I would be ready for it.”
Clement’s career numbers show he owns 262 rushing attempts for 1,717 yards (6.6 average) and 21 touchdowns. His best year was 2014 when he rushed for 949 yards and nine touchdowns as Melvin Gordon’s backup in 2014. Gordon won the Doak Walker Award that year as the nation’s best running back and finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Clement felt that his pushing of Gordon helped motivate both players. He thinks that could be him and Ogunbowale in 2016.
“His head is on right and he’s worried about the right things now,” Ogunbowale said. “There were a lot of people in his ear. Whether it was media, friends or family that were saying last year was the year and that he would go to the N.F.L. After the year he had, he’s realizing how important it is right now. The only thing he says is ‘making a play,’ so that just shows he’s worried about the next play. That’s the Corey Clement we feel we saw as a freshman and a sophomore, the guy that was just out there trying to make the biggest play. That should be scary for defenses.”
While he claims to have a different approach mentally, he brought the same burst and allusiveness during spring camp that he brought during his first two years on campus. It’s the same number six, the jersey that has been a part of his life since childhood.
“Six goes six,” Clement said. “That’s been my mentality every time I get the ball – try to go for six, let the defense handle the rest, go back out and try to do it again.”
Knowing that the blockers in front of him were going through a transition, Clement boasted that he’d have to do a lot of work himself. After last year’s bitterness, the senior is ready to prove he’s mentally ready for the challenge.
“You live in the now and wait for the opportunity to come back out the next day and capitalize on the work you put forward,” Clement said. “I think anybody who has another chance to grow and come back the following year should be better mentally and physically, whether that be in the playbook or on the field.”
“I’m taking this opportunity to make a name for myself and the team,” he added. “I think we have a lot to show this season. We’ve got a great schedule coming up, a lot of (Big Ten) East conference teams that are very great. We just have to show we’re better.”