West Virginia's Clarke offers clues that football, forensics can mix

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Will Clarke will close out his West Virginia football career Saturday when the Mountaineers play host to Iowa State, but this redshirt senior defensive end is far from finished with football.

Clarke, an Allderdice High School graduate, has been West Virginia's defensive anchor this fall, terrorizing opposing backfields with team and career highs in sacks (five) and tackles for losses (14.5, the 17th-highest total in Division I-A).

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, despite the Mountaineers' woeful 4-7 record, Clarke has "played his way into being a potential very high draft pick" in the spring.

"He's a tremendous leader," Holgorsen said of Clarke. "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."

A criminology major, Clarke intends to pursue a master's degree in forensics.

Clarke (6 feet 7, 273 pounds) grinned when asked about his future plans: "I'll probably be the tallest and largest forensic scientist out there on the crime scene."

Before that, though, is NFL prep. Clarke will begin training next week but doesn't know where.

Despite his numbers and Holgorsen's praise, Clarke is still something of an off-the-radar NFL prospect.

NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Clarke listed as the No. 26 defensive end and with a grade of 30.

The No. 1 defensive end, of course, is South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall prospect with a 96 grade.

Clarke, a three-year starter at West Virginia, called his performance this fall "a step up" from a year ago, when he finished with 6.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.

"I've made more impactful plays," Clarke said. "Not just being around the ball but actually getting to it."

Clarke took a moment earlier this week to reflect on his journey to the brink of pro football. He began with Allderdice and singled out a former coach -- William McLinden Jr., a teacher, assistant coach and mentor who died in early July.

"Coach Bill McLinden, rest in peace," Clarke said. "He was a West Virginia alum, an offensive lineman here, and he had me really prepared with line technique. He really instilled that hard-edge mentality -- play tough, don't let anybody see you sweat, don't let anybody get a play on you."

Clarke's fondest memory at West Virginia was an easy one to recall.

"The last Pitt game, for sure," Clarke said.

That was a 21-20 West Virginia victory Nov. 25, 2011 in Morgantown -- the last installment of the Backyard Brawl. Clarke had five tackles and a half-tackle for a loss, and he's quick to remind his friends on the Pitt roster of that night.

"We always talk stuff, and I always say, 'Well, we got the last one. Y'all haven't beat us since I've been in school,' " Clarke said, a grin lighting up his face.

"It's always good to have bragging rights over that."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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