DeKALB – Tyrone Clark was always there.
The Northern Illinois senior linebacker wasn’t able to play last season after he was was suspended for the season because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
He could have turned his back on the program. Instead, he became a leader.
“My role was just to get everybody better,” Clark said. “Bottom line. I just had to go to the scout team and work. Get everybody better.”
Clark started all 14 games for the 2010 Huskies, leading the team with four interceptions. He also contributed to NIU’s heartbreaking, 26-21 loss to Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference Championship, when he tipped an errant pass straight to a Miami receiver on fourth-and-20 on the drive that sunk the Huskies’ chances.
All last season, the theme for NIU was to vindicate that loss.
Even though he couldn’t play, Clark felt that same urge.
Whether it meant playing quarterback or defensive lineman on the scout team, or simply firing up his teammates when they lost enthusiasm, Clark always worked to make his team better.
“He busted his butt,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “He did everything that he could in his position. He had an opportunity to go one way or the other, to stick his lip out and be down about it or be a man and take his medicine, and that’s what he did. He took advantage of the situation.”
Now, Clark is back.
Along with junior Devon Butler, who returns after missing last season, Clark will help complete a linebacker corps that is one of the most experienced units on the team.
The senior always felt he was part of the team. But now that he knows he’ll be back out on the Huskie Stadium field on Saturdays, that feeling is different.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It feels good to be out there with my team. I’m just trying to take it in every day. I took it in stride. I refocused my mind because I knew it was about my team. It was bigger than me. I took it and I just made the dedication to my team every practice. “
His suspension cost him a year of eligibility. But his conduct during his time off gained him the respect his teammates.
“He has incredible character and wants what’s best for this team,” sophomore linebacker Michael Santacaterina said. “Everybody looks up to him. Even taking the whole year off, not playing a single game, he came out with that same energy every day.”
Clark spent a lot of time last year making his teammates better.
Finally, he can focus on his own improvement.
“I haven’t changed too much about myself,” Clark said. “I just have a different mentality. It’s my last year, and I just want to lay all my cards out on the table and to get better every day.”