"I've never lost any confidence,'' Clarke said. "I've still got one goal, trying to be the best player I can be. It's not my job to really worry about everybody else's concern. But it gets a little annoying sometimes, hearing it all the time.''
Unfortunately for Clarke, hearing about it isn't limited to the e-mails and texts and Facebook posts he stumbles upon daily. It also comes from his coaches.
When Dana Holgorsen and his new offensive staff arrived in the spring, it was the perfect opportunity for Clarke to put behind him any perception of bad traits. Holgorsen wasn't around when Clarke fumbled the ball last fall and he didn't care what had happened in the past. Clarke began the spring with a clean slate.
But then he went and ruined it by coughing up the ball in practice.
"He's a guy that can carry the ball and he's a guy that can block. The better he gets at both those aspects, the more he's going to play,'' Holgorsen said in the spring. "But if he puts the ball on the ground again he's not going to play at all.''
Clarke knows all of this well.
"I've just got to work hard on the little stuff that's going to make me better and not cause those problems,'' Clarke said. "Like fumbling.''
In truth, Clarke doesn't consider himself a fumbler. He said he's never had a terrible history of failing to hold onto the football, but the fact is that most running backs don't. Those drops, though, tend to be magnified when they come at critical points. So Clarke will keep working as hard as he can on securing the ball.
He's not alone, of course. Practice each day is filled with ball-security drills for the running backs, even those who don't have fumbling issues. In fact, the drop that Clarke had in warm-ups the first day - the source of those e-mails - wasn't just a matter of the ball slipping out. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was grabbing at it and trying to tear it away.
"He almost broke my arm,'' Clarke said.
And know, too, that West Virginia would love to have a non-fumbling Clarke available to even further diversify an already multiple offense. The guy has tailback skills in a fullback body, which is a rare commodity, especially on a team loaded with smaller backs like Vernard Roberts, Trey Johnson and freshmen Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. Throw in bigger backs like Shawne Alston and fullbacks Matt Lindamood and Ricky Kovatch and there is plenty of competition.
"Everybody's trying to separate themselves right now, just trying to get a position,'' Clarke said. "During camp there are no friends. We're all teammates and you want everybody to do their best, but you have to watch out for yourself, do everything you can and not make mistakes.''
Like fumbling the football. It's easy to forget that Clarke wasn't alone in fumbling, either last year in general or in that UConn loss, in which WVU fumbled seven times and lost four. It is also long forgotten that a big reason West Virginia had first-and-goal at the 1 was Clarke. He'd carried three straight times and gained 3, 8 and 4 yards to get the ball to that point.
So in other words, the guy is worth saving.
"I've already grown from it,'' Clarke said. "I've been hearing it for a long time now. I did it, I've got to get used to it and make the adjustment.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.