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Will Clarke Emerging as WVU Leader

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Michael Ploger, MORGANTOWN -

The West Virginia defense has seen a major overhaul since last season, meaning it is time for new leaders to emerge.

Defensive end Will Clarke is taking on that role, and running with it. The redshirt junior has quickly become one of the most experienced players on a defense that currently only holds two senior starters.

Clarke started 11 of 13 games last season for the Mountaineers, putting up two sacks and 34 total tackles.  But for a team that lost both Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, as well as the 14 sacks they provided last season, the time has come for Clarke and company to step up.

"Now it seems the pressure is on everyone to get there, we're adding pressure ourselves as well as pressure from the coaches to get to the quarterback," Clarke said.

Going into his third season on the field, Clarke has already grabbed the attention of coaches and players.  New defensive line coach Erik Slaughter has been looking for a leader, and believes he has found one.

"There are lots of ways to lead, by talking and by example.  I think Will is really turning it up," said Slaughter.  "He cares, number one.  Great kid.  He's not a vocal guy, he's a real nice guy."

The defensive end agrees with his coach, saying he quietly leads through example, rather than being a vocal teammate. 

"[I'm] Just trying to make sure I'm trying to do everything right so the younger guys will try to follow in the right footsteps," says Clarke.

Clarke has the build to be as dominant as it gets down in the trenches.  Standing 6-foot-6, 269 pounds, he will be looking to ignite a pass rush that must heat up in order to have a successful defense.  But an impressive defensive rush needs more than just a spark.

Younger guys like Christian Brown and Imarjaye Albury are looking to play big in order to add some depth along the defensive front.  It's no question that these guys follow the leadership of Clarke both on and off the field.

"He's becoming a tougher mentally person as far as being a leader and being more vocal which is not his personality," Slaughter notes.  "He's having to do something that's out of character for him but he's really stepping up and doing it, especially with our young guys up front."

It was clear to see Clarke taking on this new role at the end of spring football.  His teammates had voted him as one of four Iron Mountaineers, an award which recognizes individual players on their efforts and performance throughout the Spring practices.

Then at Big 12 Media Day, it was Will Clarke standing alongside Geno Smith and Mountaineer Jonathan Kimble as they sang the WVU Fight Song.  In more ways than one, the defensive end is making his name known.

Slaughter continued to endorse his lineman by saying, "He's not just a leader for the defensive line, he's a team leader because people listen to him.  They know that he cares and so he's got the voice of the whole football team and he's doing a good job of stepping up and doing that."

As far as summer camp is concerned, Clarke is adjusting to the new schemes.  After the departure of Jeff Casteel, Joe DeForest arrived with the 3-4 defense.  This has allowed Clarke to be more versatile, and play either inside or outside.  When asked if he had a preference, there was no question what he enjoys.

"I like defensive end, I would prefer defensive end," he claimed.  "Because there's more free space I would say, not as many guys out there."

Coming off the edge played a key role in the sacks Mountaineers had last season.  It wasn't difficult to find Bruce Irvin flying around offensive tackles in route to the quarterback.  The question now is if Will Clarke can have that same burst and wreak just as much havoc.

Head Coach Dana Holgorsen is on board with the new Will Clarke just as much as everyone else.  He thinks Clarke has not only become stronger through gaining weight, but also through maturity and a great attitude as an upper classman.

Fans will get to see how much work the big No. 98 has put in this offseason in just under three weeks when Marshall visits Milan Puskar Stadium.  Just expect something different than the "Bruce" chants from years past as a new defensive leader has surfaced.

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