Clarke Steps Into Spotlight
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In football, fortunes can change in an instant.
Dominic Clarke was not supposed to be out there Saturday when the Buckeyes took the field on defense against Akron in the season-opener.
Dominc Clark breaks up a pass against Akron
Photo by Jim Davidson
The third-year sophomore out of Frederick, Md. lost his battle with redshirt freshman Bradley Roby during fall camp. He was slated to start the season as the No. 3 cornerback in a two-corner system.
Then, two days before the opener, Ohio State found out they would be without their No. 1 corner, Travis Howard, along with starting tailback Jordan Hall and backup safety Corey Brown.
That’s how quickly an opportunity that once looked closed can re-open.
“Of course I felt bad for my teammate but any chance to play, of course I'm excited about that,” Clarke said.
“I wanted an opportunity to go out there and prove myself and make the most of it, so I was really happy.”
Sometimes things change quick. That’s part of being a corner. Two days is not much time for a young player to mentally prepare himself for his first start, but Clarke never let his mentality change, even after he lost the other starting corner spot to Roby.
“I feel like at practice I never feel like I don't have a chance to play,” he said.
“I'm going to always go out there and try to compete, so all of us are always ready.”
The Zips were ready too. The switch had not gone unnoticed by Akron coach Rob Ianello, and it looked like quarterback Clayton Moore was determined to test Clarke in his first career start.
“I'm pretty sure that they knew (what the situation was),” Clarke said.
“But at the end of the day both of us that were out there were new guys, so I felt like it could have went either way.”
But it didn’t. Moore went after Clarke early and often Saturday, trying to see if the youngster would hold up in his first test of the season.
What the Zips may not have known, however, was that playing in Ohio Stadium against Akron hardly compared to Clarke’s experience of playing against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
When starter Chimdi Chekwa was knocked out of the game with a separated wrist, Clarke had to come off the bench and play in the biggest game of his life. Much like he did back in January, Clarke handled himself like a veteran Saturday against Akron.
“It was like, 'Dom, you put in the work.' Dom is a great player,” said senior linebacker Sweat, who will serve as a game captain in week two against Toledo.
“Unfortunately, Travis is out, but Dom did a great job. He made a great deflection that I ended up picking off. I thought Dom had a good day.”
Clarke had a number of big pass breakups against the Zips, including one that landed in Sweat’s arms along the sideline. Whether that was Akron wanting to stay away from Roby—who was also making his first career start on the other side—or them wanting to pick on Clarke, it didn’t matter.
He batted everything away, and in doing so forced the defense’s only turnover of the day.
“Every day at practice we have to run to the ball. If we don't run to the ball we get low, and you don't want to get that,” Clarke said.
“We ran to the ball and Sweat came up with it.”
He got the pick, but Clarke got the notice. Any more games like that and the staff might have to re-think their decision.
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