LSU junior middle linebacker Damone Clark may have a new jersey number but retained the same outlook when it comes to playing his position.
“Football’s aggressive, so I like this aggressive defense,” Clark said during Tuesday’s Zoom news conference. “Our defensive mentality is either hit or be hit.”
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Clark, a two-year letterman, is making the switch from outside linebacker to the middle in first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s 4-3 defense. It brings Clark the added responsibility of helping orchestrate the alignment of the entire defense.
After serving as the understudy of former standouts such as Devin White (now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Patrick Queen (now of the Baltimore Ravens) it’s Clark’s turn to grab the leadership reigns of a position group hit hard by graduation.
Clark has heard plenty of talk about what’s expected of him after following in the footsteps of such standouts as White, Queen and Jacob Phillips and the task he inherits in trying to live up to past standard of the position.
He’s paid closer attention to what that aforementioned trio’s had to say about his opportunity, not the outside chatter.
“One of the main things I learned from Devin, Jacob and P.Q. (Queen) that everything’s going to come to you,” he said. “Just be patient and don’t rush everything because good things come to those who wait. My goal is to be the best Damone Clark that I can be. A lot of people say (to be like) Devin, P.Q. and Jacob. Nah, I’ve got to be the best Damone Clark that I can be. I can’t compare myself with what they did.”
Clark certainly has qualities that compare favorably with White, with whom he played behind as a freshman, along with Queen and Phillips during LSU’s run to a 15-0 record and national championship season. He’s blessed with not only strength against the run but is athletic enough to cut off outside running lanes and cover the middle of the field.
Clark, who at age 5 relocated from his hometown in New Orleans to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina, started in three of LSU’s 15 games last season. He had five tackles in a start in LSU’s 37-10 SEC Championship game win over Georgia.
Clark wound up sixth on the team with 51 total stops, registered four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and had 3 ½ sacks for minus-32 yards heading into his highly anticipated debut in the middle of LSU’s defense this season.
“I’m excited to play in this defense,” he said. “As the Mike linebacker I’m the quarterback of the defense. Everything that I’ve ever asked for is coming. I’m glad to be in this position. It’s being really aggressive. It’s the SEC. It’s hit or be hit.”
Clark’s previous two years of experience and emergence as a team leader during an offseason dominated by the coronavirus pandemic earned the former Southern Lab High star one of the team’s most coveted honors with the recent presentation of the No. 18 jersey for the 2020 season.
Clark shares the honor with running back Chris Curry, a distinction bestowed to players that best exemplify a selfless attitude and embody what an LSU player should be.
“I’m blessed and honored to wear No. 18 after so many guys before me have worn it, I’m excited,” Clark said. “I thank coach O (Ed Orgeron) and the coaching staff. It means a lot being a guy from Louisiana. Growing up watching LSU play, I envisioned myself walking down Victory Hill, running through the tunnel in front of 102,000. It’s really surreal. I’m really honored.”
Clark will experience the thrill of LSU’s pregame ritual of walking down Victory Hill with his teammates for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. season opener with Mississippi State. But because of the COVID-19 health scare, he will notice a much different atmosphere where fans aren’t permitted to tailgate and Tiger Stadium expected to be at 25 percent capacity in keeping with the state’s guidelines.
Clark believed LSU would play a 2020 season he eagerly awaits.
“All along I knew we were going to play football,” he said. “It was about helping myself as well as the team just to play football. We’ve been preparing all along to play and Saturday we can finally play.”