The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 9, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Clarke plays waiting game at NFL draft

MORGANTOWN — Never really could figure out West Virginia University’s defensive end Will Clarke.

First of all, at 6-foot-7 and 275 or so pounds, you had to assume he ate alligators for dinner and grunted instead of spoke.

As a defensive end, his job was to take quarterbacks apart, one piece at a time.

But then, when you sat down and spoke with him, you found he was soft spoken and polite, a really nice guy.

So, I guess, it’s not surprising that as the NFL teams went through the first round of their draft on Thursday night in prime time, gobbling up all the glamorous players from last year’s college season, they really didn’t know much about Will Clarke, either.

Oh, they had poked and probed him over and over. They had him run 40 yards with more clocks timing him than Invicta sells watches in a month on TV. They measured his broad jump and how high he can sky, checked out how many times he can pump iron over his head — weight that most of us would have trouble just getting off the floor.

They spent hours watching tape of him against Oklahoma State and Texas and, yes, even against William & Mary and Georgia State.

They gave him intelligence tests and interviewed him more than he’d been interviewed by the media in a whole career at West Virginia.

And know what?

They did all that and they still don’t even know what position he plays.

Honest.

Some of the pro teams see him as a defensive end, coming off the corner out of a three-point stance trying to beat an offensive tackle to get to the quarterback.

Others see him standing on his feet, a linebacker type of player, taking advantage of his height and wing span, having him come off the edge to rush the passer or slip back into pass coverage in the flat.

Why not?

It was the same problem they mused over in 2012 when Bruce Irvin came eligible for the draft.

He wasn’t a prototypical defensive end, not a prototypical linebacker but a unique athlete unlike many that they come across, so much so that he wound up being selected in the first round, and playing for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

As Thursday’s first-round slipped by, teams could turn to other players like Clarke, who with running back Charles Sims seem to be likely third- or fourth-round picks.

The other day, on the Statewide Sportsline, Clarke admitted he not only didn’t know if he would be drafted but where he would play.

“If you’d have asked me that question about three months ago, I may have said I’d be more of a hand-in-the-dirt kind of guy,” Clarke said in response to a question. “But since this process has started — since the NFL Combine and even my pro day — a lot of teams have started to talk to me about standing up and playing that rush outside linebacker.”

He doesn’t even know what to prepare for, let alone where to send his luggage.

All he knows is that he stands at the edge of having a dream come true, for there are those who firmly believe he is better suited to the NFL game than he was to the college game and could be a better pro player than he was a college player.

One of those people is his second WVU coach, Dana Holgorsen, who found him to be a special kind of kid and player.

“He’s a tremendous leader,” Holgorsen said. “He has his degree, he does things right, and he’s going to be a great pro because he attacks the game the way you need to attack the game. I’m really proud of him. We’re going to miss him once the season is over. For sure.”

Clarke not only has a degree. He has a master’s degree in forensics, which sets him up if things don’t work in the NFL or come the day he decides that he’s had enough chasing quarterbacks around and wants to live a normal life as a member of a real-life CSI team.

Clarke has been one of those draft phenoms who really weren’t thought a whole lot of in college. He wasn’t an All-American, didn’t set records … but once the pros got a look at him, tested him and talked to him he jumped from a marginal draft pick to one who could go in the second, third or fourth round.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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