T.C. Williams defensive lineman Jeremiah Clarke kicked off his senior year by making his college decision, committing to North Carolina on Fathers’ Day. In two weeks, the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder will close out his final season of high school football in a place where no Titan has gone in 22 years: the playoffs.
Currently holding the No. 9 spot in the Virginia Class 6A football power rankings, the Titans have a chance to compete for their first state title since 1987. Clarke, who has 5.5 sacks for the 5-3 Titans, took time earlier this week to talk about ending the team’s playoff drought, his college commitment, and the NFL lineman with whom he is most compared.
Recruiting Insider: What’s it like to be part of the senior class that snapped the long playoff drought?
Clarke: It’s a great feeling. That was one of our goals, but we don’t want to stop there. We want to compete for a state championship. At the start of the season, we felt like we had what it takes to make the playoffs, so we set higher goals. I see ourselves as maybe a sleeper; go in, do big things and silence the critics who think we’re just a team that other teams beat up on.
RI: What is different about this year’s team than the other ones that just missed the playoffs?
Clarke: We’ve got playmakers on both sides of the ball. We don’t have a lot of size, but we’re deep. We have a lot of athleticism and guys who are stepping up in multiple roles. We’re 22 strong and ready to compete.
RI: What do you feel like has been your contribution to the team’s success this season?
Clarke: I see myself as one of the leaders, a general for the defensive line who helps control the defensive front. I draw a lot of double teams and attention, so that gives other guys a chance to make plays.
RI: You had a lot of big schools coming after you, like North Carolina, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Miami. What factors went into you choosing UNC?
Clarke: I picked UNC because it’s close, the education is top notch and it fits me and my style of play. They’ve got a reputation of putting defensive linemen in the NFL, so that was big for me.
RI: Which of your skills do you think intrigued college coaches to recruit you so hard?
Clarke: My speed and size. I’m big and tall, but I’m also quick and fast and able to dodge defenders so that it’s difficult to block me. Some people have compared me to [Detroit Lions defensive lineman] Nick Fairley.
RI: That’s not a bad comparison. Which defensive lineman do you look up to and study?
Clarke: D-tackle wise, I like Ndamakong Suh…minus the dirty plays and all that [laughs]. Defensive-end wise, I look up to [Philadelphia Eagles defender] Trent Cole.
RI: Back to UNC, you’ll have three other Northern Virginia players joining you in Chapel Hill in your own teammate Malik Carney, (Lake Braddock QB) Caleb Henderson and (Yorktown RB/DB) M.J. Stewart. How much did you talk to them when you all were making your decisions?
Clarke: I didn’t really talk to them that much. I knew they were considering UNC, but I was the first one to commit, so it was pretty much me going on my own accord. It just came to me on Fathers’ Day.
I did talk to Malik some about him coming with me, but when he actually committed, I was shocked because I thought he was leaning somewhere else. I talked to M.J. a little bit, so I had a feeling he might commit. I’m looking forward to having them all there and hanging out once we get to school.
RI: I understand you got an invitation to play in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl (on Jan. 3 at the Florida Citrus Bowl). How did that come about?
Clarke: I got an e-mail about two months ago inviting me to play in it, and of course, I was really excited. It feels great to be recognized by an outside source as one of the top players in the nation. It’s the week of my 18th birthday, so hopefully I’ll shine and make it a special one.
NUMBER CRUNCH: 2
Goals scored by St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes freshman Jordan Wiley in leading the Saints to a 4-1 win against Georgetown Prep on Thursday and their first IAC boys’ soccer title.
-No. 17 Gonzaga and St. John’s renew their rivalry for the 88th time Saturday in a preview of their Nov. 10 matchup in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals.
-Friendship Collegiate’s Jalen Tabor talked official visits after receiving his Under Armour All-America jersey on Thursday.
-Broadneck’s talented linebacking corps will look to slow Meade rusher Kyle Evans on Friday.
-Virginia’s new playoff structure has some Cardinal District teams anxiously looking forward to the postseason.
-Long-time rivals Loudoun County and Loudoun Valley will face off Friday in a critical Dulles District contest.
-Qualifying for the playoffs will be an uphill battle for several Montgomery 3A football teams.
-Leonardtown’s football team is aiming for its first playoff appearance.
-Centennial’s girls’ cross-country team claimed the Region 3A East title Thursday by edging River Hill in a tiebreaker.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Football: No. 18 South County at No. 4 Lake Braddock, 7:30 p.m.
Lake Braddock hasn’t allowed a point since a Sept. 20 win against Westfield and shut out its last five opponents. South County averages 48.5 points and has rushed for 2,803 yards in its triple-option offense. Something’s got to give.