Watching from afar, about six hours away, George Washington alum Shawn Clark marvels at how his alma mater is faring in football.Just as much, he marvels that they're playing home games on The Hill."We're at an advantage, I tell you," Clark said Wednesday. "It's great for the community, it really is. I remember back when I was playing, we'd play at Laidley [Field] and there'd only be a couple of hundred fans there; it looked like you were playing in front of two."I've had a chance to watch game film from some of the upcoming seniors at GW. What a great thing it is for the kids to play in front of a great crowd, and the job that Coach [Steve] Edwards [Jr.] has done up on The Hill. It's remarkable, it really is.
"When I get up for breakfast [on Saturdays], the first thing I do is check the high school scores in Charleston."Clark has come a long way from his distinguished playing career at GW and Appalachian State. He headed into coaching a few years after, and is now in his fourth season as an offensive line coach at Purdue.He helps lead the Boilermakers (2-1) into battle Saturday against Marshall (2-2) in a 3:15 p.m. game at Ross-Ade Stadium.His coaching mentor for most of his career has been Purdue's fourth-year head coach, Danny Hope. Hope was assistant head coach at Louisville in 2002 when Clark was in his second year as a graduate assistant. When Hope got his first head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky, he brought Clark onto his new staff. Clark stayed through 2008, a year after Hope became assistant head coach at Purdue.
Along the way, Clark tutored nine All-Ohio Valley linemen and three future NFL players - Larry Turner of the St. Louis Rams, Sean Dumford of the Baltimore Ravens and Derek Hardman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hardman, a Spencer native, played 12 games in 2010-11.Hope was brought to Purdue as associate head coach in 2008, with an eye toward replacing Joe Tiller at the end of that season. Tiller retired and Hope became the program's 34th head coach, as planned.Hope coached the offensive line in the 2008 season, and now needed a replacement. He brought Clark from EKU on Dec. 1, 2008.Record-wise, the Boilermakers climbed back into the winning column in 2011, going 7-6 with a victory over Ohio State and a bowl win over Western Michigan.
There were also milestones on the offensive line for Purdue, starting with three honorable mention all-conference players in both 2009 and 2010.In 2011, the Boilermakers had 11 100-yard rushing efforts, including 393 against Southeast Missouri and 265 in the bowl game. Two linemen were selected in the NFL draft - tackle Dennis Kelly (fifth round, Eagles) and guard Nick Mondek (sixth, Texans). Kelly made the Eagles' roster, debuting last week at Arizona.With a week left until Purdue starts Big Ten play against Michigan, Clark and Hope are still fine-tuning their rotation. Top veterans include senior center Rick Schmeig and junior right tackle Trevor Foy, who have combined for 31 of the unit's 64 career starts.
"That's one position we're starting to achieve some continuity," Hope said of the line. "The same five guys have been the starters now for a couple of weeks in a row. Even though we have some veterans back, it's not the most experienced offensive line."Being in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers don't have small linemen by usual standards - they run 6-foot-5, 300 pounds; 6-6, 302; 6-3, 305; 6-7, 320; and 6-7, 300.Then again . . ."In this conference, that's not a very big offensive line, to be honest with you," Clark said. "It's one of the smaller lines in the conference. We use our athleticism, our speed to our advantage."Clark is eager to renew West Virginia ties - he says he rooted for Marshall and WVU growing up, and checks their scores religiously (after the Appalachian State score, of course). He last crossed paths with the Thundering Herd in 2002 at the GMAC Bowl, which served as the triumphant finale for MU quarterback Byron Leftwich and the infamous exit for Louisville coach John L. Smith.Then there were three slugfests with Marshall, in which Clark's Mountaineers went 2-1. When Clark returned to action in 2008 after a back injury, the Herd was off to Division I-A.
Now Clark is preparing to see white helmets with a green "M" again. He is fired up about Saturday's game, but then again, he'll be fired up for the next one, too."It's exciting to be part of the Big Ten, and to be in such a great conference," he said. "It's definitely a dream come true to have a job at this level, for sure."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.