Notre Dame QB commit Brendon Clark's offseason work paying dividends

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

A mishandled snap while under duress might have deterred Brendon Clark in 2017.

But when Notre Dame’s 2019 commit recovered the football — with his back facing the defense — he made something happen. As three white jerseys converged on him, Manchester (Va.) High’s quarterback kept his eyes downfield and fired it 30 yards.

His receiver took care of the rest.

Kevin Henderson’s 48-yard touchdown grab — an improbable juggling act over a defensive back — was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Henderson’s effort highlighted the play.

The score would have never happened, though, without Clark’s offseason progress.

“He used what we do in training — those off-posture throws,” said RVA QBSA’s Malcolm Bell, Clark’s quarterback trainer. “Throws that most quarterbacks don’t want to make. Turning yourself into a gunslinger, so you have that confidence to make any throw on the field.”

Pure DETERMINATION on this catch #SCtop10 (via @JermaineFerrell)

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 13, 2018

That confidence shows on the stat sheet. Clark owns a 15-0 TD-INT ratio and a 50-for-70 (71.4 percent) completion clip this year. His 840 yards through the air are coupled with 189 rushing yards on 30 carries, as well as six scores.

The Lancers own a 312-68 advantage over five opponents, so Clark has not seen second half action.

“Reading through his progressions on the move, making quicker decisions and getting the ball out,” said Manchester coach Tom Hall on what Clark has improved.

Clark can heave it 80 yards, Hall estimates, but he relied on his arm too much as an underclassman. Once he suffered a non-contact right ACL tear as a freshman, Clark abandoned his lower body.

Bell, a former North Carolina Central star, began remolding Clark’s mechanics in January. Beyond strengthening his core and lower body, Clark focused on hip activation and rotational force via his torso.

“It has definitely made it a lot easier and taken stress off my arm,” Clark said. “The throws come out, and it feels to me like I’m barely throwing it with my arm. I’m using a lot of my hips, my core and my legs.

“I might not even need to use all of my arm to finish through all the way because of that initial push off my hips. I think it definitely shows on my deep ball, too.”

A double-opposite technique — a throwing motion Bell described as the opposite elbow lifting while the ball releases — limited Clark from reaching his potential. Now, Clark’s left elbow remains in and tight.

“Once he started to understand that,” Bell said, “his ball just started to fly out. And it was on time. Some quarterbacks do use the double opposite, and that’s fine, but that was not the right thing for him.”

At 6-2, 217 pounds, Clark does not shy away from running over defenders. His mobility allows him to innovate in and out of the pocket, too. Clark polishes this ability through drills where he delivers passes without completing his dropback.

Hall compared him to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who improvises with sidearm throws at impossible angles. Bell agrees.

“He’s really, really fearless,” said Bell of Clark. “In training, you see it a lot. Him making throws from different angles.”

Prior to this year, the only camps Clark attended were the Opening in 2016 and 2017. It led to his demotion to three stars. Minimal offers came, too, emboldening a verbal pledge to Wake Forest last summer. 

A knee braceless junior season allowed Clark to throw for more than 2,000 yards and score 40 touchdowns. His production earned him an invite to Charlotte’s Elite 11 — the regional in which he won camp MVP in April.

“I think it opened his eyes, and he was like, ‘Hey man, I’m just as good as these guys,’” said Roy Clark, his father.

Notre Dame and Clemson quickly offered Clark. He also made a name for himself among the 24 at June’s national Elite 11 in Los Angeles.

Five days after decommitting, Clark took a June 15 official visit to Notre Dame. He then committed on July 4.

“When he left for California, we thought he was going to Wake,” Roy said. “And then when he came back, we had no idea that he was thinking about changing his mind.”

What the family regarded as an omen of sorts confirmed Clark’s choice. The Clark family adopted a black lab nearly a month before he backed out of Wake. They named him Deac, for Demon Deacons.

Deac, though, was put down after he attacked Clark’s older sister, Jordan, later in the summer.

“To us, that was like a sign,” Roy said.

"The next dog we have, we're going to have to name him Rudy," Roy told his son.

Quarterback coach Tommy Rees provided more tangible confirmation for Clark. Rees, like Clark, was a lower-rated quarterback who did not attend many camps.

“He came in, and he was one of three and then ended up starting,” Clark said. “I think we just both have the competitive spirit, down-to-earth and personable.”

Forget Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush returning in 2019. Clark will compete against Phil Jurkovec, who rated as a top five quarterback in the 2018 class.

“I personally wanted to go somewhere where there’s a lot of talent in the quarterback room,” Clark said. “I don’t have to play down. I want to play up to a level where there’s a lot of good guys who will ultimately make me better.”

Notre Dame’s lone Virginia commit will not attend its bout at Virginia Tech this Saturday. He fears he would raise suspicion by donning a Hokie sideline pass.

Clark will instead continue to benefit from his offseason work. He went viral on Twitter again by front-flipping into the end zone last week. 

Want to see what gives coaches gray hair? Plays like this flip from Brendon Clark, one of his 7 TDs last night @lancer_footbal@MHSLancers#FSFCBS6

— Lane Casadonte (@LaneCtvsports) September 29, 2018

Another fearless, Stafford-esque play.

“That’s one that definitely makes you get grey hairs,” Hall said. “We even talked about it this summer. We were down at the beach together, and we were watching highlights or something. He saw a guy jump over another player, and he said, ‘I’m going to do that this year.’

“I’m like, ‘The hell you are. No more of that, unless it is the state championship game and that’s the only way you can score.’”

Brendon Clark was first offered by Notre Dame on May 28, 2018.