For the past three seasons, he has been a strong, silent force in the middle of the Florida defensive line.
Now that Khairi Clark is a senior, surrounded by young players, the coaches are asking him to alter his role. They want him to drop the silent part.
It’s time for Clark to step up and become a vocal leader.
“One thing I want to accomplish this summer is definitely being more of a vocal leader,” Clark said. “It’s been expressed to me a lot and I’m working on that very highly to get the young guys going with me. Just teaching them the aspects of this game and being a leader on and off the field.”
Florida’s young defensive tackles need a leader, a mentor, and Clark is the obvious choice.
Among the six scholarship defensive tackles, Clark is the lone senior. The rest of the group consists of three true sophomores (Kyree Campbell, Tedarrell Slaton and Elijah Conliffe) and two juniors (Luke Ancrum and North Carolina transfer Marlon Dunlap Jr.).
For the past three seasons, Clark has anchored the defensive line. He started all 11 games last season and has played in 38 games and started 15 for his career.
He’s been known as a player who carries out his assignments and does his job.
Those are leadership qualities.
“I think he’s been through it,” defensive line coach Sal Sunseri said. “He knows what it’s about, playing top SEC teams. He’s been in the games. He has experience and all that.”
Clark has led by example in the past. Now, he’s being asked to be a more vocal leader for the youthful tackles.
Clark said he doesn’t feel totally comfortable yet sounding off.
“Me being a quiet guy, I’ve always tried to lead by example,” he said. “I’m not the type (to be a vocal leader). I always would try to lead by me just showing my actions of what I do on the field and off.
“I am definitely going to be a vocal leader. I have to because we have a lot of younger guys. Sometimes they’re going to need that experience from somebody that’s been here. They look to me.”
By his actions, the silent Clark helped mentor the three true freshmen who played a significant role last season — Campbell, Slaton and Conliffe. Now he’s looking forward to leading them.
“Man, I think highly of them,” Clark said. “They’re big kids. They were born with some great size. They’re coming along great, learning the system, continuing to progress. They’ll be real good for us this year.”
The young tackles are fortunate to still have Clark around to lead them. After a strong junior season in 2017, Clark seriously considered declaring for the NFL draft before making the decision to return for his senior season.
“I just told myself it wasn’t my time yet,” he said. “I wanted to come back and progress as a player and get more stats in and try to be a leader this year.”
The Gators certainly are glad he’s back, especially with the lack of experience and depth at defensive tackle.
“It’s great,” junior middle linebacker David Reese said. “Some of the guys here leave, three-and-out. It’s great to have great experience, especially in front of me when you’re going to need it in the trenches. He’s going to be a great guy to mix with the young guys to let them know what time it is and get them acclimated to the game.”
To prepare for his senior year, Clark has been working hard in the weight room — and at the training table.
He’s lost weight and gained muscle and quickness thanks to Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program and a sensible diet.
“I’ve trimmed down a lot,” he said. “I’ve lost about 10-15 pounds and I feel like I’m definitely a lot quicker. Last season I played at 317. Right now I’m about 305.”
Sunseri said he could see a difference in Clark over the course of the spring.
“Khairi’s gotten better, in my opinion, because he’s taken off some weight, he’s put on some muscle,” Sunseri said. “He’s moving quicker and he’s understanding what’s going on.”
He’s quicker and stronger. Now, he needs to be louder — a vocal team leader. It’s something he’ll be working on around his teammates this summer.
“It’s something I have to do,” Clark said. “I need to be a leader.”