STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - As you might expect, there have been some changes at Penn State since its Rose Bowl loss to Southern Cal in January. Some college football observers find it nothing short of rebuilding.
Gone are talented wideouts Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordon Norwood. Gone are defensive ends Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines, and Maurice Evans. Gone are chunks of the offensive line and defensive backfield.
But there's a reason to remain optimistic in 2009 in Happy Valley. It's quarterback Daryll Clark.
The 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Nittany Lions.
Last year at this time, the Youngstown, Ohio, native was just hoping to beat out Pat Devlin for the starting position. Devlin has since transferred to the University of Delaware. The Downingtown East product's departure and gaining valuable experience as last season's starter has only bolstered Clark's confidence and leadership skills.
"I don't want to say that it is a comfort level," he said of not having to look over his shoulder. "It's just something I don't have to worry about. Now I can just worry about getting this offense together to where we need to be to win football games."
The cocaptain's presence benefits much more than the offense.
He's the one who makes it a point to establish relationships with every player on Penn State's roster. He's the one who leads by example and isn't afraid to get in the face of a teammate. And he's the one who, despite the key losses, believes the team will duplicate last season's success.
"Tons of talent, man," Clark said of this season's squad, "and we have it at each and every position."
In most games, Clark will be regarded as the most-talented player on the field.
That's because he threw for 2,592 yards and 19 touchdowns with just six interceptions last season to lead Penn State to an 11-2 record and Big Ten title. Clark also rushed for 282 yards and 10 scores.
As a result, the 23-year-old is 18th on the NationalChamps.net 2009 top 25 Heisman Trophy preseason watch list.
He is also listed as the second-best player in ESPN.com's rankings of the Big Ten's top 30 players behind Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn.
"It's an honor to be mentioned amongst those guys who are Heisman hopefuls at the beginning of the season," said Clark, who hasn't set any individual goals for the 2009 season. "But all it takes is one bad game, and you are out of the running, period.
"When you start to worry about, 'I need to have this many yards, touchdowns or completions,' that's when the progress of your team starts to be affected. That's when you start messing up and you wind up losing the football game."
With that said, Clark is focused only on contending for a national championship and winning another conference title.
That's why he's leading his teammates on 6 a.m. runs each Tuesday and Thursday this summer. That's why he follows that up by dissecting last season's game film.
Afterward, he's either participating in offense-vs.-defense drills or playing catch with the wideouts.
Not satisfied, Clark works on his footwork and regularly throws on his own on Wednesdays at Haluba Hall, Penn State's main indoor practice facility.
"This period right now is a time for me to get myself fundamentally sound with all my mechanics," he said. "Some plays, I get lazy with my play-action, my follow-throughs, things like that. I want to be so crisp, I will be able to complete passes in my sleep."
If so, it could be another stellar season for Penn State.