Inside the Story of How the Panthers Discovered RB Darius Clark

Carolina found a talented running back at a HUB Football camp who was overlooked by NFL scouts.
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New Carolina Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said in his introductory press conference that the team was going to be in on every deal and will constantly find ways to improve the roster. Last Thursday, the Panthers signed free agent running back Darius Clark to a one-year deal after watching him perform at a workout in a HUB Football camp in San Diego.

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The HUB was created by Don Yee, who is the agent of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. The HUB is designed to give players who have been overlooked a 2nd chance at fulfilling their dream of playing in the NFL by doing different types of drills in front of NFL scouts. There are no 40-yard dashes, cone drills, or any Olympic-based workouts. Once the players get warmed up, they go straight into skill drills.

In a recent interview, Clark told All Panthers on SI that David Turner was one of the biggest reasons for being discovered and ultimately being signed by the Panthers. 

Turner has spent nearly 20 years working in professional football including a stint with the Panthers' organization from 2017-19 before he left to take a job in the CFL. Now, Turner runs a consulting business called Maverick Sports Consulting where he helps camps like The HUB fill their camp with quality individuals like Darius to come to work out for NFL, CFL, XFL teams, and then hopefully get them signed to contracts.

"Immediately after the workout Mr. Matt Allen (Panthers Director of Pro Personnel) came over and asked how I felt. I said pretty good. He said they were going to offer me a contract right now. I was shocked and excited and didn’t know what to say. So I just responded, 'ok cool'. He said, 'Are you excited?' I said 'yessir I was extremely happy just didn’t know how to react because it didn’t seem real.' Then I went over to my agent and told him the news. After talking with my agent I went to find David Turner and just hug him thanking him for acknowledging my talents and skills. He is the reason I was able to show the Panthers what abilities I possess.

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"David is the most genuine guy ever," said Clark. "I appreciate him and have the utmost respect for him. He believed in my talents and abilities to play at the next level. David and I have a strong relationship. I check in on him and he does the same for me. It’s a mutual level of respect we have for one another."

Not only did Clark impress on the field but his character and work ethic is something that Turner noted as being off the charts.

"He's a special kid. I've met like 800 or 900 kids and this is a guy that checked in with me each month. Not invasively, just 'hey Mr. Turner, how are you doing? Just want to let you know I'm still grinding, I'm losing weight,' and just making sure that I knew he was still out there doing his responsibilities so if I wanted to continue to believe in him, he'd be ready for an opportunity.

"He's very respectful. He and his mom and grandma and four-year-old sister live off the coast of South Carolina just on a little island. They don't have much but they're very humble, very hard-working. He's a blue-collar kid, very respectful. He'll look you in the eye very confident and that's one thing that a lot of kids from his background may not have is to carry the confidence that he has which is impressive to me. I think any coach who meets this young man is going to shake his hand and is going to love him."

Clark's relationship with Turner began back in November where they met at another workout. Turner wrote up a report and sent it to all 32 NFL teams but nobody wanted to bring him in at the time, noting that they were busy with workouts which was understandable. Once Tom Goodhines of The HUB called Turner up, he knew right away that Clark had to be one of the players that attended the workout in San Diego.

"I called the young man and got him there and I saw the same stuff as before but he leaned up on me. I think when he worked out for me originally he was 230 lbs, now he's 218 lbs. What they saw was a 6-foot, over 200-pound back that caught the ball very smoothly, ran the ball, went through bag drills with what we call little man feet, quiet feet that got him through, and a good change of direction, very flexible and bendy in his lower body."

Clark has the ability to play running back, wide receiver, return kicks, and line up on special teams coverage. He can do a little bit of everything which will help his chances of making the team's 53-man roster. Last year, it was undrafted rookie Myles Hartsfield that made the cut by being able to play at both running back and safety. Versatility is something every coaching staff falls in love with, especially Matt Rhule and his staff. 

When asked where Clark will fit in, Turner said that he believes he'll see the majority of his time at running back as a backup to Christian McCaffrey. They may split him out wide from time-to-time but will mainly line up in the backfield. With Mike Davis recently signing with the Atlanta Falcons, it creates competition for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

"He's going to work hard and he's a good change-up back to Christian and he'll take some of those third downs away from Christian, maybe even some 2nd and shorts away from Christian. But the surprising thing about him is you can run him out of the backfield and flex him in a spread formation and allow him to run a route and he runs good routes so it's something that'll catch the rest of the league off guard a little bit until they get used to him. You can run both him and Christian in the backfield together or flex one out or flex both of them out to run routes and now they're on linebackers or safeties because they came in on like a 21 pony look and now you have a natural mismatch. I also think he would be a heck of a kickoff return guy. He's not a blazer, he's not a 4.3 guy, he's a 4.55 guy but again, for a guy 218 running 4.55 at 6'0" that's still pretty dang good."

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Clark also caught the attention of Wayne Moses who was one of the coaches helping run the drills at The HUB. Moses has been in the college game for 40 years and spent time at five PAC 12 schools such as USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, and Washington. He also spent two years with the St. Louis Rams (2006-07) before returning to the college level. 

"We weren't able to block, but from what I could see he could run, he could catch, and he can create his own yards, and he saw things really good. I think this is a great opportunity for him and I think it's going to be hard for him to get out of their (Panthers) camp. I think once they get him in there, they ain't going to want to get him out, I just think that this situation, this scenario is going to be great for him because like I said, he came in, he had his sleeves rolled up, he just wanted to work. We told him how it was going to go in terms of what we wanted to achieve and it was just a great deal on everybody's part. I'm so happy for the kid." 

Kids that come from small schools oftentimes play with a chip on their shoulders because they have something to prove. They were passed up on by major colleges and in Darius' case, he was passed up by NFL scouts the first time around as well. Clark is from Wadmalaw Island which is a small little island in Charleston County, South Carolina. After playing quarterback in high school, Clark went on to play his college ball at Newberry College. He was expecting to stay at quarterback but was moved to scout team running back and eventually went on to earn the starting job as a junior. Clark finished his career at Newberry totaling 1,045 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. 

Getting passed up by NFL teams a couple of years ago didn't keep Clark down for too long. He knew he had the talent and the ability to make a roster, he just needed an opportunity. 

"I always had the dream of playing professional football. In the 2019 draft class, I was waiting days after the draft to get a phone call but it never came. It was very discouraging and took a lot out of me. I've never been a quitter and have always had perseverance through adversity. While waiting for a workout or opportunity from a team I always had people telling me 'go find a real job' or 'it might not happen' or 'it’s too late'. I blocked out all the doubters and distractions and used them for motivation to continue training. It has been 809 days of consistent training and researching to look for combines and workouts where I would be able to display my talent and versatility in numerous positions. When the opportunity came I seized it by being discovered by David Turner. He noticed my abilities and changed my life and that’s what got me here today with the Panthers. But although I got my foot in the door, the real work begins and I am only going to get better each and every day. I’m here to do whatever is asked of me so we can win a Super Bowl."

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