Let’s be honest. This season for LSU has sucked. It is really that simple.
With the black cloud of Orgeron’s pending firing, the team hovering at .500 with a 4-4 record with doubts of being bowl eligible looming, and the mound of injuries to LSU’s talented roster, it is difficult to be optimistic about the general state of the program. There is just so much to be negative about.
Doing so would be an apathetic disservice to Damone Clark.
“I think he’s playing like an All-American,” Orgeron said after the game Saturday. “I’m so proud of Damone.”
The senior linebacker has been nothing short of fantastic for LSU this season, rebounding from a subpar 2020 performance. With 98 total tackles through eight games, he leads the NCAA in the category. With the coveted No. 18 on his back, he has been the embodiment of the defensive captain, both on and off the field. With two forced fumbles and an interception to his name, he has also been active in creating turnovers. Against Ole Miss Saturday in LSU’s 31-17 loss, Clark had his best game of the season with 19 tackles and a forced fumble.
Clark’s LSU career began with high expectations. In 2018, he only played one game as a defensive player, but was active on special teams, and more importantly, in the talented LSU linebacker room that featured now-NFL players Jacob Phillips, Michael Divinity Jr., Patrick Queen, and the growing legend Devin White. When he cracked the rotation in 2019, the position group was arguably the best and deepest of the national championship-winning defense. Clark finished the year with a respectable 50 tackles.
When most of Clark’s teammates left for the draft or graduated the next year, he was expected to step in on the new, revamped LSU defense under the tutelage of Bo Pelini. Unfortunately for Clark, the new defensive coordinator’s defense left him, a classic box-to-box linebacker, in impossible positions to succeed. The middle of the field is Clark’s domain, but when he or Jacoby Stevens were the only players there to make tackles in space or mark receivers cutting across, their ability to boost their individual stock was capped. Stepping as a leader also meant Clark had to take responsibility for the defense’s performances, even when most agree it was never his fault. NFL draft scouts thought of Clark as a day-three player at best after the nightmare 2020 season.
This season for the team overall has seen the commonalities in game results, but not in the team’s defensive play. Clark must get a lot of the credit for this. His impact, direct or indirect, on offensive gameplans affects opponent performances. With his play, he should in consideration for the Butkus Award, last won by Devin White himself, and putting himself in a position to a first or second round talent in the NFL Draft.
“I just looked myself in the mirror,” Clark said, “and last year I was nowhere near where I needed to be, and even now I'm still nowhere near where I need to be. I mean, there's always room for improvement.”
And yet, Clark, the consummate teammate, is dissatisfied. He is upset with the poor play and oblivious to the outside noise. His only concern is to help the team play better and win. Don’t doubt that scouts take that into account too.
Clark’s biggest motivation is his daughter. A girl’s dad to the heart, Clark wants to be his best for her.
“I don’t want anybody else to put food on the table for her,” Clark said. “I want to be the one that puts the food on the table for her. It just hits different when you have a daughter. You got more to fight for.”
Clark can be upset. In fact, it might be concerning if he wasn’t. But LSU fans should recognize the greatness they are witnessing from him. Soon, he will be joining the impressive fraternity of LSU linebackers in the pros, and his career is just getting started.
“Not looking too far down line,” Clark said, “but you know we got more games. It's not going to stop. You gotta keep going.”