July 3, 2013

Borton's Blog: Growing process

Junior defensive end Frank Clark stands out as one of the more engaging personalities on U-M roster for 2013. Now, he knows, he needs to fully engage in making Michigan's defense the best in the Big Ten.

Clark thinks it can be that way. He ticks off the speed of the defensive linemen by memory, insisting all of them run times that would cause double-takes for players that size. He loves everything about the Michigan defense, from the coaching to the athletes to the mindset in preparation.

His own mindset doesn't involve how good he's been, or what he has accomplished. It's all about getting better.

"There are a lot of mistakes the media hasn't seen that I make in practice," Clark offered. "There are a lot of things I know I could have corrected, where someone else may have said, 'Oh, that's a great job.'"

Clark insisted he's working diligently to get better. He doesn't want to just factor in as a highlight reel performer, with a big interception in the Sugar Bowl or a devastating hit on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

He's looking for consistency, and someone who can be counted on play-in and play-out. He's getting there, Clark assured.

"Right now, my coaches have a lot of trust in me," he said. "I can help lead the defense, or be someone who helps lead the team. That's something that, as a player, it's an honor for my coaches to even look at my like that, when it seems like it was just yesterday I was a freshman coming in, looking up to guys like Mike Martin.

"Now it seems like it's up to me and the other older players - Taylor Lewan and Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington - to help lead this team.

"I want to be more consistent. Whether you call it being a complete player, or just being more consistent - I want to be more consistent. I want to be relied upon. I don't want to be a player where I have a great game, and the next game, you don't hear my name called."

The trust goes both ways, Clark assured. He talks about defensive coordinator Greg Mattison like he would a second father. Clark had Mattison for a position coach as a true freshman, and does again this season.

That will make a difference for him, day-in and day-out, Clark assured.

"I've learned to trust my coaches," he said. "You come in and you really don't have a place. You don't know what you're doing. You don't know the program. You don't know anybody.

"I came in and I was young. I didn't know what I was doing. I was just playing football on ability. When you have coaches who you find out really love you as a player, and they put all this time and effort into making me become a better player … that all shows the coach really cares about you."

As for Mattison in particular, Clark assessed: "Coach Mattison is a great coach. Great isn't even the word to describe him. He's extraordinary. He's elite. When you think of defense, you think of Coach Mattison. You think of championships, you think of Coach Mattison.

"You think of defenses that won championships in college football, you think of Coach Mattison. It's a privilege.

"It's sad … if he could coach or be at home with his wife, I'm sure he'd coach. Mrs. Mattison - I love her, too. But that's just how Coach Mattison is.

"He'll call me: 'Frank, what you doin'?' I'll say, 'Coach, I'm just relaxing. I'm playing a game.' He'll say, 'Okay, I'm just checking on you, making sure everything is all right.'

"It's just the little things."

Little things, Clark insisted, that are making a big difference for someone who required mentoring along the way.

"He's not just the defensive coordinator that sits in his office," Clark said. "No, he's in my face. As old as he is, he's giving examples of how to do the drill.

"He's told me how I have to be a leader. More than any specific drill he could teach me, more than any technical thing he could teach me about the game, it's about how to be a leader.

"I've had a lot of talks with him - sit-downs and phone conversations. He taught me, basically, how to become a leader and how to become a man.

"I believe I came to Michigan as a boy. Now, I believe I'm developing into a man. I have no choice. I have to."

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