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Jared Clark: The odd man out

Joe Hettler | Friday, November 12, 2004

Jared Clark didn’t know what to do in the spring of 2002.

He was struggling at quarterback and had little chance of seeing the field. He didn’t enjoy playing football anymore.

So Clark decided to take a chance.

“I actually approached one of the [graduate assistants] and asked kind of out of the blue if there was interest in me playing at another position because I was struggling so bad at quarterback,” Clark recalls. “It was really getting to the point where it wasn’t fun at all. [The graduate assistant] said ‘Absolutely there’s interest in you at another position.'”

“So he went to the coaches and I actually asked coach [Tyrone] Willingham if it’d be alright if I switched positions and he said, ‘You can be a tight end.'”

Switching was no easy task for Clark. At first, he thought he’d be on the other side of the ball.

“I thought they were going to say linebacker, that’s where I thought they were going to put me,” Clark said. “They said they wanted me at tight end and I was fine with that too because I had played on offense primarily and it was probably better for me than linebacker.”

While he was big (now listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds), Clark had mainly played quarterback his whole life. Despite the possible obstacles, Clark wanted to contribute for Notre Dame.

So the Sarasota, Fla. native made the change to tight end and hasn’t looked back.

Intense competition

Clark was a sought-after quarterback at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, especially after an outstanding senior season. Clark threw for 1,372 yards and 17 touchdowns, and ran for more than 700 yards and 10 more scores as Mooney advanced to the third round of the Florida state playoffs.

Clark narrowed his choice for college down to three schools – Miami (Fla.), Georgia and Notre Dame. He finally chose the Irish after visiting the campus and meeting some of Notre Dame’s players and coaches.

“When I came on my official visits some of the guys that are in this class were here and the people on this team and the camaraderie and the closeness of the guys on the team was evident,” Clark said. “That was something I wanted to have.”

Clark signed with the Irish and entered fall camp knowing that there were two other talented freshman vying for the starting job – Matt LoVecchio and Carlyle Holiday.

But Clark wasn’t worried about the competition.

“I knew the best man was going to win and it was more whoever came in here and did the best,” Clark said. “Those two came in and did better than I did, so that’s how it worked out.”

Clark continued to practice as the non-starting quarterback until making the decision to switch to tight end before the 2002 season.

Learning on the run

The hardest part of changing positions for Cla-rk wasn’t catching passes or learning the playbook – it was crouching into a three-point stance.

“When I first made the transition, I had played football since I was six and I had never had to get down in a three-point stance and push people around. I played defensive line in high school but that was the only other time I ever had to put my hand on the ground playing football. It was completely foreign.”

But Clark didn’t get discouraged and continued working hard in practice. He credits tight ends coach Mike Denbrock with helping make the transition smooth.

“Coach Denbrock did a great job. I’ve come a long way since that first day,” Clark said.

Despite just changing positions a few months earlier, Clark showed signs of promise at his new position in 2002.

He caught seven passes for 104 yards, including a 37-yard reception against Florida State and had four more catches for 41 yards in the Gator Bowl against North Carolina State.

“It was just fun to be able to get in the game and help the team out,” Clark said.

With a season at tight end under his belt, Clark emerged as a threat for the Irish in 2003. He started two of the team’s 12 games and finished the season fifth on the team with 15 receptions for 142 yards. Besides contributing on offense, Clark played a significant role on special teams, recovering a fumble in Notre Dame’s upset win against Pittsburgh.

Stiff competition

After applying and receiving a fifth-year of eligibility, Clark went back to work in the off-season and spring practice to continue improving at tight end.

But when the 2004 season began, Clark found himself on the bench and not on the field.

The problem for Clark? Notre Dame had too many talented tight ends on their roster.

“We have a great group of tight ends and someone’s not going to be playing that much or at all and I guess I’m that guy,” said Clark, who has yet to catch a pass this season. “If that’s the role they need me to play I’ll be the backup guy and whenever they need me to come in, I’ll come in.”

Clark accepted the role gracefully, continued practicing hard and tried to help the Irish in other ways, besides by playing in the game.

“More than anything [I want to] be there and answer questions for guys and let them know sometimes coaches will get on them for little stuff,” Clark said. [L]etting them know, ‘Hey man, we’ve all been there. We’ve all made those mistakes, go pick it up.’ I think that me and [fellow tight end] Billy Palmer are real close and we try to make the guys laugh a little and keep the morale up and try to keep the camaraderie together.”

Denbrock said Clark has made the most of his opportunities and is the ultimate team player.

“Leadership wise I think he’s done a very good job of not only keeping himself in a position where he’s ready to go at a moments notice but also helping out the other guys at his position,” Denbrock said. “It’s a very competitive situation and he is a very positive influence on everyone around him and that makes us a better football team.”

With only one home game remaining, Clark has started thinking about life after football and Notre Dame. He hopes to take his management degree and find a job back in Florida.

Clark said he’s enjoyed his experience at Notre Dame, even if things didn’t turn out how he once envisioned a few years ago.

“Right now not playing that much and taking a different role has been tough,” Clark said. “But I think looking back and seeing that I was able to play for the University of Notre Dame and I was able to get in there and help the team a little bit.

“The biggest thing I’ll take away from this are my teammates and the friendships I’ve made on this team. I’ve never been as close as I am with a bunch of guys on this team and hopefully we’ll be friends for life.”