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December 14, 2013

Born to coach

THOMASVILLE — Cam Clark isn’t just going along for the Auburn Tigers’ BCS ride. He is playing an important role in their quest for a national championship.

Clark, grandson of Thomasville’s Ramsey and Charlotte Clark, is a graduate assistant who coaches Auburn’s defensive backs. He is looking forward to taking on likely Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the undefeated  Florida State Seminoles in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6.

“It’s been pretty special,” Clark said while reflecting on the magical set of circumstances that put the Tigers in position to claim their second BCS crown in four years.

On Nov. 16, Auburn shocked Georgia 43-38 on a last-minute 73-yard Hail Mary pass that bounced off the hands of a defender. It followed that two weeks later by defeating archrival and two-time defending BCS champion Alabama 34-28 on one of the most stunning plays in college football history — a 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play.

The win over Alabama vaulted Auburn into last week’s Southeastern Conference title game against Missouri. It prevailed 59-42, but still needed a Michigan State victory over Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game later that day to secure a berth in the national title game. The Spartans obliged, 34-24.

Clark hasn’t had much time to celebrate the Tigers’ good fortune.

“Right now, we’re working on breaking Florida State down and we’ll start practicing again on Monday,” Clark said. “It’ll be full bore then until the game is over. It’ll probably be a full month before all this soaks in.”

Clark is grateful that he gets to contribute to Auburn’s practice preparation and the film breakdown of opponents.

“We’re very fortunate here at Auburn that Ellis Johnson, our defensive coordinator, puts a lot of trust in us,” Clark said. “I get to help coach in the secondary and be in charge of a position, so I get the best of both worlds.

“I’m getting some experience at being a position coach at this level.”

From birth, Clark seemed destined to be a coach. His father, Dain Clark, became a prep coach after starring as an offensive lineman at Central High School and Harding University.

Dain Clark, currently at Calhoun High School, is on the verge of retirement.

“With my dad coaching — I believe 32 years now — I grew up around it,” Clark said. “I felt like it’s really all I knew and all I ever wanted to do was play.”

Clark was an outstanding player, earning all-state honors as Calhoun’s quarterback. .

“When I realized playing ball was over, I still wanted to be in it in some way and coaching kind of filled that void,” Clark said.

Clark solidified his belief that coaching was for him while starring as a cornerback/safety at Harding. He was a four-year letterman in football and track.

“You really learn a lot more about football in college,” Clark said. “I really enjoyed the time and preparation that is put into it. It really excites me.”

In 2008-10, Clark served various roles on the coaching staff at Faulkner University, including defensive backs coach, wide receivers coach, special teams coach, recruiting coordinator and junior varsity head coach.

In 2011, Clark headed to Arkansas State where he served as a graduate assistant under Hugh Freeze, now the head coach at Ole Miss.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn succeeded Freeze in 2012 and Clark followed him to the Plains. Arkansas State won the Sun Conference championship in Malzahn’s lone season there. Clark helped him as a graduate assistant with the defense and special teams, plus he was the quality control assistant.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around some great coaches,” Clark said. “I’ve been around them at the right point in their careers, too. I’m extremely blessed to be here.”

Now Clark is awaiting his biggest challenge. He said the defensive coaches at Auburn and Florida State will have their hands full in the championship game.

“We can really run the ball against anybody, and Florida State has an unbelievable offense. Winston really makes that thing go,” he said. “He definitely presents us with some headaches on the back end (of the defense). It’s a good thing we’ve got three more weeks to get ready.”

Winston presents additional challenges for defenses because of his ability to extend broken plays, Clark said.

“We’ve faced so many of those kind of guys this year,” Clark said. “We had to defend (Texas A&M’s) Johnny Manziel, and last week it was the (James) Franklin kid of Missouri. He’s that kind of player.

“Even an Aaron Murray (of Georgia) has a little of that to him. We’ve had to play several guys who, every time you thought you had them stopped, you found out the play wasn’t really over.”

Clark is eager to see how Auburn will stack up against an offense that averages 53 points per game.

“We’re extremely excited,” he said. “We never thought we’d be here, but we are. I don’t know if I can handle another (high-scoring game).

“If we can win it, I’ll take it anyway we can get it.”

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