After playing a limited role during his freshman and sophomore years, Clark was poised to become a starter for the Hokies as a junior.
Instead, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer dismissed Clark from the team in March 2012 after the outside linebacker was cited in Blacksburg, Va., for misdemeanor public intoxication/swearing.
"I think that whole situation made me the person that I am today," Clark said after practice this week. "I wouldn't be as good as I am, I wouldn't be as good of a leader as I am without that situation. ... I went through a lot and learned a lot, and I've gotten much more mature and much better at doing things the right way."
That maturity off the field has matched the senior outside linebacker's development on the field. After ranking fifth on the team in tackles with 49 and forcing one fumble last season, the 6 foot 1, 230-pound Clark leads the Tigers (13-2) in tackles with 139, solo tackles with 83 and forced fumbles with five.
Clark is part of a group that headlines a defense with the unenviable task of trying to contain back-to-back, reigning national champion North Dakota State (14-0) in Saturday's NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, at 2 p.m.
Bison coach Craig Bohl noticed Clark during the coaching staff's review of the Towson defense.
"[H]e can run really well," Bohl said during a national conference call last Friday. "He's an aggressive guy with great instincts."
Clark's success does not surprise Bud Foster. The Virginia Tech defensive coordinator said the coaches saw that potential in Clark when they recruited him out of Granby High School in Norfolk, Va.
"The kid had a lot of ability when he was here, and he's definitely a Division I-A BCS-caliber athlete," Foster said. "There's no doubt about it. Had outstanding speed, very explosive, a lot of ability, a lot of tools. He was a good run defender, a potential blitzer and had the ability to play in space. He had a lot of tools to be an impact guy at a lot of levels."
Foster said he understood that Clark, who was one of six players who had been sent home early for missing the team's New Year's Eve curfew at the 2011 Orange Bowl, was growing up, but that growth manifested in a harmful manner.
"A lot of players, when you're inconsistent off the field, you're inconsistent on the field," Foster said. "I don't care if it's at this level or the NFL level or if it's a different sport. There's a correlation there, and those are the things that he needed to do — be consistent in all aspects in his life. And, unfortunately for us, it carried onto the football field.
"The kid had a lot of ability and we had a lot of discussions, and I'm really happy for the kid. I was a guy that kind of helped him in a lot of areas, and I tried to help him after we made the decision because I think the kid had a lot of upside. But he also had things he needed to resolve. He needed to grow up. He needed to grow up and mature and do the right thing. That's obviously what he's done."
Towson coach Rob Ambrose said the staff did its due diligence when researching Clark's compatibility with the program.
"We knew him from high school, and we knew the kind of player that he was," Ambrose said. "We made some phone calls to the Virginia Tech staff as to secure his hard work ethic and his personality, and he passed all the things he would need to get into the door here for us."
"We broke down a lot of the playbook and talked about the potential of the team and the direction, and I really liked where they were headed, and I thought I could help," Clark recalled. "…[O]nce I arrived, just the work ethic and the overall attitude of the team as a whole, that's when I kind of knew that something big was going to happen because it was that mindset and that work ethic that you needed.
"Being a part of Virginia Tech, I'm used to being part of a winning team and seeing guys have what it takes. I saw that very early here."
In addition to leading the defense in tackles and forced fumbles, Clark ranks second in tackles for loss with 101/2 and fumble recoveries with three and third in sacks with 41/2.
Foster said he wished Clark was still a member of the Hokies' defense.
"He would have been a factor on our football team," Foster said. "He has the potential to be that guy. We wouldn't have recruited him if we didn't think so. But kids are different. They grow up at different paces. I — as much as anybody — am extremely happy for him and his performance, and I'm happy for him that he has this opportunity."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun