Quarterback Justin Clark having difficult senior season

Two minutes are left in the game. The championship is on the line. Your team is down 24-21, and you’re the only who can steer the team down for that game-winning score. You are the quarterback of the team. This is a dream that countless kids who play football have. Quarterback is the glamour position of the sport and when it comes to down to it, almost every kid who ever plays the game wants to control the offense. Most kids never have that chance, but a select few do and when you still have that opportunity in college and you were the starting quarterback last year, there is no doubt that that dream mentioned earlier is very much alive and well. Now add on to it that it is your senior year and of course that is supposed to be when it all comes together and clicks and you take the team to the promise land. Your senior season is when you fulfill that vast potential. For Justin Clark of Western Carolina that senior season and that childhood dream may have just been snatched from his grasp. Clark was throwing in practice a couple of weeks ago when he felt something in his shoulder roll and his hand started to go numb. Ever since then, the prognosis has not been promising because there has not been a prognosis. The team is still in the dark as to what is wrong with Clark’s shoulder. There is the possibility of nerve damage, but there is still the chance that nothing too bad has happened. All these possibilities just add onto Clark’s frustrations at not being able to play. “It’s real tough. It’s especially tough in not being able to practice because that is where your leadership and being a leader comes out. It’s hard to do that when you’re riding a bike during practice and not getting out there and not getting involved with the team,” said Clark. “The big thing is trying not to lose leadership and trust in your teammates.” What makes the injury even more difficult is the fact that Clark had to compete with fellow senior quarterback Bennett Swygert in the spring. Swygert, a transfer from South Carolina two years ago, started in 2004, but has battled injuries and sat out last season with surgeries to both shoulders and knees. “It was tough, but it was fun though. I think it will work out in the end. We had a good battle and going into the season I think it would have been me or him. That’s kind of the sucky thing about it is not knowing who won outright,” said Clark. Most experts expected Clark to win the position battle before the injury. Making the situation even harder is the fact that Clark feels he has improved his game by leaps and bounds from last season. “I think the game has definitely slowed down for me. Sometimes it gets so slow and you throw a couple of incompletions and you get back out and everything is flying at you. What has helped me a lot in this spring and fall is going up to the line with a plan. If they blitz then this is what I’m going to do. Knowing the situation and having a plan slows everything down,” said Clark.”In the past I had a plan but I was not mature enough as a player to say, ‘This is this blitz that I see.’ I saw the blitz but I didn’t know what blitz it was and what play worked against it.” Clark has had a tougher time with the injury than the competition as both he and Swygert have been able to maintain a good friendship throughout the tight race for the starting spot. “We have a good personal relationship and during practice we’re competing, but after practice we’re back to being friends again,” said Clark. “We joke around about it sometimes, but on the field and off the field we are still friends and we still hang out with each other. That was one thing we didn’t do when he was here the first time. We didn’t have a personal relationship. We just went out and competed every time we saw each other. It’s fun this time and that’s what being competitive is. You give it all you got and if he beats you then you know he honestly beat you. Then we shake hands and go at it again.” With Swygert starting, Clark’s expectations have been dimmed a little, but he still expects to play and maybe even start if he comes back. “I haven’t done anything in the game to prove myself yet, and I wouldn’t expect the coaches to say Justin’s back, ‘Let’s put him in the fire’, either. I think that it is a good thing, though, because if Bennett gets hurt then I’m going to be there. If he’s having an off day then I’m going to be in there. Who knows? If I come back we may go to a kind of two-platoon system.” While not a very vocal leader, Clark (the strong and silent type) has tried his best to handle the criticism that comes with being the starting quarterback. “Sometimes it gets to you a little bit, but the more and more negative things I hear it just makes the drive that much harder to prove them wrong. I would much rather hear criticism than someone telling me false lies,” said Clark. “It’s a mixed bag. You read it and you know you played horrible and you don’t want to read it in the paper that you played horrible. But playing quarterback you get blamed for the losses and blamed for the wins. It’s still fun to be in that position though.” Coming out of high school, Clark was recruited by many schools. He even had partial offers from Wake Forest and Duke. A standout baseball player as well being the son of a coach, Clark excelled at understanding the game. He came to Western expecting to succeed and right when that success seemed to be around the corner he injures his shoulder. He’s not mad, though. “The big thing I’ve been going through with my shoulder is not asking why but just saying this is what your plan is and believing and putting my faith in God. Everything that you go through in life, keep your faith and God first. He’ll pull you through anything. He’ll pull you out of anything,” said Clark. “After school hopefully I’ll go to grad school and coach a couple of years at the college level. If I like it I’ll probably stay, but if I don’t then I’ll probably go back and teach and coach back home where I graduated from.” It would be tough for Clark if he can not play again this season, as he is very close to being in the top 10 in career passing. “It would be hard being my last year and not playing. I don’t think I could get a medical this year, but it’s been a fun ride. It’s had its ups and downs but it’s definitely had more ups than downs.”