New and improved Brendon Clark caps perfect season with VHSL 6A title

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

This football season was different for Brendon Clark.

The Midlothian (Va.) Manchester quarterback, and Notre Dame’s 2019 commit, had trailed just twice this season until the Virginia High School League 6A title game. Manchester faced its biggest deficit of the year, trailing 7-0 to Freedom on Saturday.

The manner in which it occurred resurfaced old nightmares, too. The Lancers fumbled the opening kickoff and muffed a punt. A combined nine turnovers led to Manchester’s previous two playoff losses against Colonial Forge.

Nothing of the sort plagued Clark this year, though. He threw a mere one interception — ironically in a quarterfinal win over Forge. Manchester’s blips against Freedom did not deter the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, who helped spark 49 unanswered points en route to a 49-7 victory Saturday.

“It was truly a blessing,” Clark said. “All of our guys, they bought in and some were a part of the teams that lost to Forge the past couple years. So we knew what we had to do to turn it up a notch, and we did that starting in January. We put the work in for a really long time, and it just kind of came together throughout the season.”

Clark lauded the Lancer defense, which registered a goal line stand. One play later, Clark found KJ McNeil for a 46-yard touchdown. Clark pulled a run-pass option and tossed it to McNeil on a bubble screen, tying it 7-7 in the first quarter.

“After that, it was over,” Clark said. “We were rolling after that.”

A 79-yard rushing score highlighted Clark’s 10 attempts for 120 yards. He went 12-of-20 for 204 yards with the McNeil touchdown.

The change, as Clark said, began in January. That’s when he started training under Malcolm Bell, a former quarterback of North Carolina Central. Bell told ND Insider in September about Clark’s changed mechanics under his tutelage. Clark focused on strengthening his core and lower body during the offseason. He relied too much on his arm strength following his ACL tear.

The right-hander also benefited from tucking his left elbow in when throwing the football.

“Once he started to understand that,” Bell told ND Insider, “his ball just started to fly out. And it was on time.”

And it was nearly perfect. Not many high school quarterbacks boasted as good of a TD-INT ratio than Clark’s 33-1 clip. In Manchester’s 15-0 season, all but one win was by at least 30 points.

Clark finished 124-of-208 for 2,122 yards passing. Clark’s coaches estimate that he can gun it 80 yards downfield, comparing him to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He also ran over defenses with his downhill style, rushing 95 times for 656 yards and 16 touchdowns.

But the offseason work allowed Clark to showcase his arm more.

“The overall mental aspect of the game and understanding defenses,” said Clark on what he improved on the most. “When I get under pressure, not automatically tuck the ball and run, and (instead) keeping my eyes downfield to find the open guys.”

ND starter Ian Book has two more seasons of eligibility following 2018. That leaves true freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec, a former four-star recruit, as Clark’s main competition. He will also be challenged by 2020 commit Drew Pyne of Connecticut, who fell in the CIAC-LL state title over the weekend.

Clark, who intends to sign early on Dec. 19 and join the Irish in June, knows he will likely redshirt in year one. That’s the message quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees conveyed to Clark when visiting Manchester on Nov. 27.

Offensive coordinator Chip Long also checked in on Clark for the contact period, which began on Nov. 25. Long journeyed to see Clark on Dec. 5.

The new and improved version of him.

“The biggest thing is the mental piece,” said Clark on his 2019 goal. “You don’t even necessarily have to be the most physically gifted in college. If you know what is going on up top, you will do phenomenal. Like (Oklahoma quarterback) Kyler Murray, he has elite speed. But he can sit back and piece people up with his arm.

“Kind of like Jared Goff in college. Not the biggest, but he’s almost like a surgeon. That’s kind of what I want to focus on — just that mental part of the game, knowing where to go with the football and understanding the playbook.”

Notre Dame quarterback commit Brendon Clark, a 2019 recruit, scored two touchdowns in a 49-7 state title victory over Freedom.
Brendon Clark