JEFFERSON, La. — As one of his coach’s put it, Josh Clarke is quietly braggadocious.
The three-star linebacker’s abilities compare favorably to most in Louisiana, but his demeanor has been molded by the adversity he’s faced early on his life.
Clarke, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound New Orleans native, has persevered through an arduous upbringing in which he lost his mother when was 9 years old. He currently lives with his aunt, Iole Harkess, whose heart is working at about 20 percent of what it should.
Hurdles in his personal life have not impacted Clarke on the football field or with his recruitment. The outside linebacker takes claim to nearly 30 offers, but settled on Ole Miss earlier this week.
For most, choosing between so many offers and so many different potential paths may have presented a challenge, but not for Clarke. He’s been forced to grow up fast, and that made his commitment a bit simpler when he finally decided to lay down his options.
“I prayed to God about it and he took me to the right decision,” Clarke told SEC Country. “I know my mom wanted me to be successful in life, and I did the right thing. Because of all the opportunities I have at Ole Miss, I just want to be successful. They want me to grow up and be a man over there, and they’re looking at me both as a player and as a man, so it’s great.”
With Clarke’s mother out of the picture, she could only serve as motivation for her son as he prepared to make the toughest decision of his life to date.
Her desire for her son to be successful has been a driving force, which led Clarke to figure out which landing spot would put him in that exact position.
That required a degree of maturity that Clarke developed much earlier than most highly sought-after recruits his age.
“Honestly, I’ve been mature since before I was even a teenager,” he admitted. “I was like 11 or 12, and I wouldn’t say it was easier to grow up fast, but I see things a lot different than other kids my age.”
Clarke’s first offer came from Ole Miss back in October 2015, and before long the list ballooned to 27. That includes offers from Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State and Georgia, among numerous others.
Above all else, the Rebels’ coaches offered Clarke an opportunity to take a step back and not be the mature adult that he’s had to be for most of his teenage life. In Oxford, Miss., they wanted to be Clarke’s shoulder to lean on and help fulfill his mother’s wish.
“They want to bring me down the right path and give me a lot of guidance,” he explained. “Really, it can get hard, but I just got to maintain and pray to God, and that helps me through.”
Clarke ultimately landed with the SEC West power when the team’s pitch began to resonated.
Ole Miss wide receivers coach Grant Heard spearheaded Clarke’s recruitment and along with coach Huge Freeze and coordinatosr of recruiting development Bruce Johnson and Lee Wilbanks, delivered that message — not only to linebacker rated No. 33 in the country, but to his Aunt Iole, too.
“They check up on me a lot. I read their mail, and they send my family mail, including my aunt,” Clarke said. “They check up on me, but it meant a lot for a college to look out for my family and not just me.”
Harkess doesn’t know the Xs and Os of the game like her nephew does, but she has certainly been a sound source of advice throughout the long and winding recruiting process.
With the football part of it removed from the equation, she — like Clarke — realized there was a clear and obvious choice.
“Really, she (Aunt Iole) doesn’t know much about all of the football stuff going because she’s a little sick right now,” Clarke said. “She wanted me to go wherever I felt comfortable. For me, she wants the best. She doesn’t know much about it, but she wants everyone around me to be a good influence.”
That’s what Clarke found at Ole Miss, committing a week after visiting the campus for a second time since the spring and third since last fall.
The final visit confirmed Clarke’s expectation on the academic side, in addition to football. There, he can discover how to be successful — in football, in the classroom and beyond — just as both his mother and aunt wish.
“It’s about all of the opportunities I’ll have,” Clarke said. “My majors and minors, it’s a lot. I know I have a great relationship with the coaching staff, and they look at me not only as a player but a person also. They want to get to know me, check up on my family, and it’s a lot of those small things that they do that made a big impact.”
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tigers Stadium.