Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark runs with the ball during the second half of a college football game against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. Clark and the Nittany Lions, ranked sixth, face No. 5 Southern California at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.AP PHOTO
LOS ANGELES — In the next couple days, after the NFL regular season ends and before the Rose Bowl, San Francisco 49ers running back Michael Robinson will make the short trip south to catch up with his prized pupil from Penn State.
Apparently, the student, Nittany Lions quarterback Daryll Clark, has surpassed the teacher in the art of passing.
“The difference with Daryll is, he’s a throw-first kind of guy, a real quarterback,” said Robinson, who played QB full-time his senior year in 2005 at Penn State. “I was a runner who had an ability to throw.”
Clark and Robinson share at least one big thing in common: Each helped lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title and a BCS bowl game.
Robinson’s squad defeated Florida State in the ’06 Orange Bowl; Clark and the current Nittany Lions, ranked sixth, face No. 5 Southern California at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Clark and Robinson both have close relationships with coach Joe Paterno, and both are charismatic figures in the locker room.
“Usually people are kind of gravitating around their lockers. They’re in the middle of things,” said Paterno’s son and quarterbacks coach, Jay Paterno. “They’re comfy in the spotlight. That’s part of the game in that position.”
The football schedules the last four months limited their interactions to phone calls and text messages, so Robinson is looking forward to the chance to finally see Clark.
There’s pride in Robinson’s voice when he talks up the current Penn State quarterback, as if Clark was a kid brother who just won a spelling bee.
“He doesn’t get enough credit,” Robinson said in a phone interview. “He’s one of the elite quarterbacks in college football.”
At the very least, Clark has emerged in his first season as a starter to become one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks, throwing for 2,319 yards and 17 touchdowns, and running for another nine scores.
Not many people thought Clark would have the kind of success he enjoyed this year — though Robinson may have been one of the exceptions.
And Robinson would know, given that he too was a mobile quarterback in college.
Like Clark, Robinson entered his first season as a starter with questions about his ability to be a full-time QB, and to lead an offense that was tweaked to suit their athletic playmaking abilities.
This year’s offense, dubbed the Spread HD, reverted to the spread-style attack that Robinson led back in 2005.
Both quarterbacks had the benefit of working with the same set of top-notch receivers. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood were freshman in ’05; they’re wily seniors now catching passes from Clark.
“Once I saw that the offense was changed up for him, when he got his shot, and with those receivers who were going to be seniors, I told him you’re going to have” an opportunity to excel, Robinson said.
But the ties goes beyond the fact they played the same position.
In the offseason after the 2004 campaign, Robinson hosted Clark on his recruiting visit.
“He just latched on, and observed everything. The way I walked, moved in the pocket,” Robinson said.
He also instilled in his pupil a leadership style that Clark appears to have adopted.
“I always told Daryll when he first got here, ‘When you want to be the leader of this team, you always have to win your class,”’ Robinson said. “Those are the guys that will be with you in the long run.”
After the loss this year to Iowa which derailed the Nittany Lions’ national championship hopes, Robinson said he was the first person to speak with Clark after the game. Clark had taken that loss hard, shouldering the blame on himself.
Even if they didn’t talk after games, Robinson said he’d send text messages to Clark with tidbits of advice, like “Take the easy throw” or “Use your legs.”