How fatherhood helped LSU linebacker Damone Clark reach his full potential
Damone Clark hasn’t given up despite the circumstances surrounding LSU’s season.
Clark is playing for something bigger. Or in this case someone smaller. All the motivation Clark needs lies in the eyes of little Dakota, his 1-year old daughter.
“I don’t want nobody else to put food on the table for her,” Clark said. “I want to be the one who puts the food on the table for her. It just hits different when you have a daughter.”
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Fatherhood has given Clark a purpose that was lacking earlier in his career. The Baton Rouge native — Clark starred at Southern Lab — has always been highly regarded by teammates and coaches. It was the man in the mirror Clark had to convince.
“Overall this past offseason, I looked myself in the mirror and I just told myself, ‘You’re not doing the things you need to be doing,’ ” Clark said. “Last year I was nowhere near where I needed to be and even now, I’m still nowhere where I need to be. There’s always room for improvement.”
Despite being his harshest critic, Clark has shined where overall the defense has disappointed. He made a career-best 20 tackles in LSU’s 31-17 loss at Ole Miss last week, including eight solo and 2½ for a loss, which upped his total to an FBS 100 total stops on the season.
The previous week against Florida, Clark had 12 tackles and clinched the victory with his first career interception.
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“I’m so proud of Damone,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “He’s all over the field making tackles and he’s a tremendous leader. He’s having a fantastic year and I think he’s playing like an All-American.”
Clark credits his success to offseason conversations with Orgeron and Blake Baker, LSU’s first-year linebackers coach. Baker, a former defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and Miami, emphasized the basics to help Clark elevate his play.
“We just started from scratch,” Clark said. “Coach O was honest with me about the things I needed to work on. I give credit to Coach Baker as well and I’m just appreciative.”
While Clark was one tackle short of tying the school record, LSU’s overall performance against Ole Miss was not one to remember. The Rebels rushed for 266 yards, outgained the Tigers 470 to 326 and scored 31 consecutive points to put the game out of reach.
“Damone is a hell of a player. I’ve known that since the first day I got here,” center Liam Shanahan said. “He’s a great leader for us. To see him come out there and play with the effort that he does, it’s disappointing. I feel bad.”
All that might be true, but Clark will never admit it. It was immaterial that Ole Miss had a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Matt Corral. Or that LSU was playing its third-string secondary in the second half.
The scoreboard carries more weight than any individual performance.
“It’s the SEC,” Clark said. “Each week you’re going to see a team like this, and we just have to go out there and execute.
“It’s a total team effort and there’s no excuses for anything.”
Adam Hunsucker covers LSU for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @adam_hunsucker. Enjoy Adam’s work? Consider a digital subscription for unlimited access.