Nearly six months after realizing a life-long objective — a commitment to LSU — the elation is still evident in Damone Clark's voice.
“I always dreamed of playing at LSU,” the Southern Lab standout said. “I never thought I would get the opportunity. It felt like home. It was special. I feel even better about my decision now.”
Before he casts an eye toward his college future, Clark’s focused on Southern Lab continuing to flourish after a 12-1 season and a second straight state championship.
In order for the Kittens to secure a third Division IV crown, they’ll depend more on Clark, a versatile defensive player who was a first-team Class 1A all-state safety a year ago.
“We have a lot of young guys on the team,” said Clark, a linebacker who registered 46 tackles, five stops for losses, four sacks and four interceptions in 2016. “Almost everyone on the team looks up to me. I have to set the standard for the younger guys.”
A year ago, the leaders for Southern Lab’s stifling defense were linebacker Chris Allen, who signed with Alabama, and defensive tackle Shannon Forman Jr., an Arizona State signee.
Now the responsibility of leading a unit that lost eight starters falls on the broad shoulders of Clark, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder, who’s earned four-star status and is rated as the nation’s No. 14 inside linebacker by 247 Sports.
A big portion of Clark’s job description in 2017 includes making the defensive calls for the Kittens, a duty he shared with Allen a year ago.
“Chris was a senior and he ran the defense,” Clark said. “This year it’s a huge responsibility for me to know what everyone’s doing on the field. I have to take a bigger role and make sure that if a teammate needs help in a game, I know what he’s supposed to be doing as well. I’ll have to know all the defense’s plays.”
It’s been a natural progression for Clark, a two-year starter, after beginning his high school career on special teams.
An injury two years ago got Clark on the field full time and he's never left. He secured a starting role at his hybrid safety/linebacker position during Southern Lab’s run to its first Division IV title in 2015.
The versatility that’s defined Clark contributions is his ability to play down in the tackle box as a linebacker or to drop back in coverage and play safety. Those qualities endeared him to LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
A 4.67-second time in the 40-yard dash and 4.2 GPA don't hurt either.
“I can play inside or outside linebacker,” said Clark, who is planning to enroll at LSU in January.
As the youngest of seven children, Clark’s endured plenty to become one of the nation’s top football players, rated 273 nationally by 247 Sports.
Clark’s family was forced to evacuate its New Orleans-area home after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has returned to their home in Baton Rouge following August’s historic flood.
More than a week before committing to LSU over schools such as Michigan, Florida and Stanford, Clark gave a favorable account of himself on a national stage at the U.S. Army All-American Combine in San Antonio — earning All-Combine honors.
“That was one of the biggest things for me,” he said. “I was able to go against some of the best players from across the country, not just from Louisiana. I don’t want to get too cocky. I just want to get better every week.”