Clark's confidence shaped through adversity

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Daryll Clark doesn't talk like a first-year starter. Fortunately for Penn State, he doesn't act like one, either.

Clark's ability to step in as Penn State's starting quarterback and lead one of the nation's most powerful offenses to a 5-0 start and a No. 6 national ranking can be attributed to fast feet, a strong arm and a sound mind. But there's something else about him, a confidence that his lack of game experience suggests shouldn't be there, but one that seems so appropriate for the 6-foot-2, 231-pound junior.

It's a confidence that hasn't been shaped by converting third-and-longs or engineering fourth-quarter comebacks. It's a confidence that has been challenged repeatedly the last few years, only to restore itself each time.

"He's not a cocky kid," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said. "Confidence is the word you want. Not cocky. He's worked hard. He's not one of those guys who goes out there and thinks he's got it made and doesn't have to work at it."

Clark has definitely had to work, from spending a year at a prep school to running the scout team to waiting his turn behind Anthony Morelli to competing for the starting job this summer against Pat Devlin. Those experiences have prepared Clark for the work ahead, guiding Penn State to a Big Ten title and potentially the BCS national title game.

"I think back to, 'Wow, you've been through a whole lot. There are a lot of things you've done, a lot of stepping stones, a lot of hurdles in your life, just to get here,'" Clark said Wednesday. "It's rewarding when you think of it. Sometimes I do sit back and think, 'Let's keep it going, man. You've been through a whole lot. Let's not stop now.'"

Clark was ready to stop while attending The Kiski School, an all-male boarding school in Saltsburg, Pa., during the 2004-05 academic year. He had been ruled academically ineligible to play for Penn State and needed to boost his ACT score to avoid being a Prop 48 recruit and having to sit out a year.

Needing a 21 on the ACT, Clark took the test three times and came up short on all three.

"There was one more test that I had to take," Clark said. "It was the last chance. The test before, I had got a 20 and I was real upset. I was shocked. I called my mom and I was ready to hang it up. And my mother told me, 'If you're going to start something, you make sure you finish it. You're there for a purpose. You're going to keep working until you get it.'"

He cleared the huddle with room to spare.

"I got a 24," Clark said.

Clark enrolled at Penn State, but more academic issues prevented him from practicing with the team for most of the fall and the following spring. When he finally got back in the mix, Morelli had claimed the starting quarterback spot.

Clark barely played in 2006, completing 14 of 27 passes and adding 48 rushing yards in seven games. He spent most of his time on scout team, but his potential didn't go unnoticed.

"Everybody looked at the way that he carried himself, looked at the way he carried the scout team," wide receiver Derrick Williams said. "You can definitely see then that he was going to be a great quarterback when it was his turn, and he definitely waited it out. ... There definitely were a lot of days when Deon [Butler], Jordan [Norwood] and myself were like, 'Man, we can't wait for Daryll to come in.'"

With the spotlight on Morelli, Clark used the year to develop his leadership skills for the future.

"Back on the scout team, I took that serious," he said. "You gain confidence then, too, because if some of the things are working against the defense, you feel good about yourself. It was mainly being a vocal leader and locking eye contact with each and every one of those guys in the huddle, letting them know how demanding I am and how confident I am in each and every player."

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, the man largely responsible for the Spread HD offense in which Clark has thrived this season, also gained confidence in Clark. As Morelli and the Lions endured some inconsistency last fall, JayPa told his dad to play Clark more.

The elder Paterno ended up sticking with Morelli -- "He had gotten so much heck from the press and from the fans. Everybody blamed him for everything," Joe Paterno said -- but Jay's instincts turned out to be right. And it wasn't the first time he had spoken up on Clark's behalf.

"When I first got here, there was talk about a position change," Clark recalled. "Wide receiver, defensive back, I even heard that they may try me out at linebacker because of my size. But Jay put a stop to all of that.

"He stood up and said, 'We're not changing his position. We recruited him as a quarterback and we're going to play him as a quarterback.'"

The wait to play wasn't easy for Clark, but he kept his mouth shut and his confidence high.

"You feel when things aren't going well out there, not to point fingers or anything like that, you kind of feel like, 'OK, maybe they need to switch it up a little bit,'" Clark said. "I feel like those plays that should have been made I can make. Those are the type of things that enter your head as you're a backup, but I didn't say anything.

"I just remained patient because I always believe that coaches know best."

Penn State finally used Clark in the Alamo Bowl, with the team trailing Texas A&M 14-0. Clark provided a spark with 78 rushing yards and two touchdown as the Lions rallied for a win.

After the game, Clark was asked, what's next?

More work. And as soon as winter break ended, he and his receivers got to it.

"It started there, working the timing routes with the wideouts," he said. "We used to take time at night and just throw timing routes, so when the pads came on in preseason camp, we really weren't worrying about timing. It gave me a little more time to focus on defenses and blitz schemes and things like that.

"As we put more and more plays into the playbook and how successful we were at executing it against our defense, I was like, 'You know what, we're ready now.'"

There's little doubt after the first five games. Penn State ranks among the top 10 nationally in scoring (49.8 PPG), rushing offense (267.6 YPG) and total offense (515.2 YPG).

Clark leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th nationally in passing efficiency (168.3 rating), throwing nine touchdown passes and only one interception in 98 attempts.

"He's one of the best college quarterbacks right now," Williams said.

And he's got the confidence to back it up.

"He's got a lot of ability," Joe Paterno said. "He's a big, strong, tough kid. He's smart. He can throw the football. He can run with it. So yeah, he's got confidence and he should have confidence."