Damone Clark might not be the best player in Mobile, Alabama for the 2022 Senior Bowl. But hear his story and you’ll come away with one conclusion: No one has overcome as much as he has to get to this point.
And make no mistake, Clark is a promising linebacker prospect figuring out the position at the right time. It’s putting him squarely on the NFL map.
Born in New Orleans, he and his family was displaced like so many others from the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that broke records and washed away parts of the city. His family relocated to Baton Rouge and in 2016, he was again impacted after another hellacious storm. His family managed to stay in the city and two years later, Clark had a new place to call home. LSU.
Speaking with reporters following an impressive Tuesday practice, Clark outlined how those personal events impacted his outlook as a professional.
“It’s life. Life don’t go your way all the time. Things happen. I had Hurricane Katrina and the floods that happened in 2016 back in Baton Rouge. It made me the person I am today. It made me grow up fast, just showed me that nothing’s promised and you gotta go out there and just give you all for everything. Because you never know when you might lose your stuff like we did.”
Clark rode the wave of an up-and-down start early in his career, picking up defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s system only to see Aranda get hired away by Baylor prior to the 2020 season. In came Bo Pelini and a system Clark nor the rest of the defense fit well in. Everyone’s game took a step backwards, Clark’s included, and the Tigers hit the reset button in 2021 with new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones, his third DC in as many years.
Of all the coaches he’s had, he credits Blake Baker for getting his game, and by extension NFL future, back on track.
“I was actually happy to see Coach Baker [at Tuesday’s practice]. He’s at Missouri now, but…I’m forever indebted to him, man. He helped me change my game tremendously and I’m forever grateful for him.”
Bell was on-staff for just one season, 2021 as the Tigers’ linebackers coach, but Clark cited Bell’s constructive criticism, not the unproductive “coach that just yells at you all the time” one that allowed Clark to play his game. Fierce, unapologetically aggressive, and willing to make a mistake so long as it gets corrected the next time out. Clark’s game rose in 2021, leading the SEC and second in college football with 135 tackles, 15 of them for a loss, with 5.5 sacks and oh yeah, a pair of forced fumbles for good measure.
He isn’t an elite-level athlete, don’t mistake him for Patrick Queen or Devin White, but moves well for his 240-pound frame, able to come downhill in the run game, get off blocks, and make the play. He was a force in team sessions during Tuesday’s practice, part of a swarming American Team front seven that gave running backs little daylight and a lot of punishment.
Clark has the distinction of wearing a #18 Tigers’ jersey, awarded to players who exemplify what it means to play for the program on and off the field. A leader, a professional, someone who takes care of business and makes sure their teammates are doing the same. It’s an honor Clark wasn’t expected when he was given it in 2020 but one he wears with pride.
“It’s a honor to wear number 18. Had a lot of guys that wore 18 before me. 18 represents the person that does the right things on and off the field. That’s me. Outside the field, I spend time with my two year old daughter. I don’t have time to do anything else. I like to just spend time with my daughter on my off time because I rarely have off-time anyway. So when I do have off-time, I’m spending time with my daughter.
“I found out two years ago in the locker room after we did a mock scrimmage. I was shocked. I didn’t think that I was getting it. I knew I was deserving of it but I thought someone else was gonna get it. But I’ll never forget the celebration team had in the locker room when I got number 18.”
The NFL journey isn’t easy. It’s a summation of Clark’s life. You heard the man – life doesn’t always go your way and the league for sure promises little. But it offers him a chance. A chance is all he needs. If Damone Clark keeps playing the way he has over the last six months, he’ll be one of the draft’s biggest hits. He’s doing it for his daughter, his Tigers, for Baton Rouge, and all he’s overcome.