The season opener for the Ole Miss Rebels is less than a week off - Sunday at 3:30 p.m. versus…
Ole Miss' senior Free Safety Charles Clark doesn't mind being called "the brains" of the Rebel defense. It's a tag he's worn proudly since he first stepped on campus in 2003, when he saw action in all 13 games and was an important part of a Cotton Bowl winning 10-3 team his true freshman year. 2006 will mark his third year as the Rebel starting free safety. Charles cannot believe the time has flown by so quickly. "I guess not redshirting one year has cut my career a year short, but still - the first three years flew by and I'm sure this one will be gone in a blink," said Clark, easily one of the best interviews on the squad and an Honor Roll Student for most of his career at Ole Miss. Charles is excited about the 2006 secondary as the season opener with Memphis looms just a few days away. "Trumaine McBride, Jamarca Sanford, Nate Banks, B. Brown and I have played together a long time. We have experience in this system now and we think we have everything down," Clark noted. "We learned the basics of the system last year. Now we can get into more of the finer points that should put is in better positions to make more plays." Some would dispute part of that statement. Some didn't learn the basics last year, but Clark pulled them through the indecision by directing traffic. "I would have been lost without Charles back there," said Sanford. "He's the smartest player on our team." Clark and Sanford, the strong safety, each have their roles in the secondary. Clark is the calming influence, the director, if you will. Sanford is the "motivator," the ball of energy that pumps everyone up with his big hits and enthusiasm. "I love having Jamarca out there with me because our personalities are different but they match what we are trying to do," Charles explained. "He's the big hitter, brash talker. I'm the one who tries to keep everyone on the same page. He won't need me as much this year in terms of getting him in the right position, because he's learned the defense now, which will help him a lot in his ability to make big plays. I don't think he will be hesitant this year." Charles and McBride, who came to Ole Miss the same year and have followed similar career paths in terms of not redshirting and starting for three years, are very close. "When I am on his side, I don't worry about anything. T-Mac is going to take care of his business. All I have to concern myself with is my job," said Clark. "That allows me to make a few more plays because I know T-Mac has got his guy covered and I don't have to cheat over his way." Banks, who will be a new starter this year, has also gained that trust from Charles, who as the FS is the last line of defense if a play breaks open. "Nate has had a great camp. He understands it's his job now and he understands the responsibility that comes with that," Clark added. As far as being "the brain," Clark said he didn't plan it that way, but he likes to be accountable and responsible for getting everyone lined up correctly. "The defense came to me easily. I embrace the role of being the quarterback of the secondary and the defenswe. The coaches trust me to do those things and I don't want to let them or the team down," said Clark, who is a Banking & Finance major but has considered going into coaching after his college career is over. "Charles would be an incredible coach," said Secondary Coach Chris Rippon. "He's a guy who is conceptual. A lot of guys can get their assignments down, but not a lot of them understand the concepts of the defense and what everyone is supposed to be doing. Charles does. Players who thoroughly understand all the concepts of everything you call are kind of rare." Charles has a simple philosophy about football, based on knowledge. "I'm not the best athlete at free safety in the SEC, but I have knowledge and experience and that allows me to play as fast as some of the better athletes," he explained. "The more knowledge you have about anything, the more effective you will be." Clark is known for being very studious. On team road trips, he's the guy who takes his books with him and takes every opportunity to study. "Charles is going to be a success because he works hard at whatever he does," Rippon closed. "He's bright, he's intuitive and he's got a great work ethic. "There are some bigger name free safeties in our conference, but I wouldn't trade him for any of them."
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