Standing 6'3" and weighing 239 pounds, Damone Clark was a menace in his final season at LSU, so you can imagine his confidence was pretty high ahead of this year's NFL Draft. However, a meeting with the medical staff at the Scouting Combine changed everything.
"I didn't even know about it to be honest with you. I felt perfectly fine," said Clark. "Finding out the way I found out, at the time of when I found out, it was tough for me, but I wouldn't change it for anything because I know God has something better for me."
That finding? A herniated disc in his neck, an injury that would require surgery to repair. Ironically enough, it was Dallas Cowboys team physician Dr. Andrew Clavenna who discovered it.
"They showed me the MRI, and to be honest, I didn't know what I was looking at. I just heard them telling me, 'You've got a herniated disk; it's going to require surgery,'" said Clark. "I'm thinking in my head, like, You all got the wrong person. I've never been hurt before. Never missed any games. I'm good. But it turns out that it was me."
Following the news, Clark made a call to his agent before continuing to work out in drills at the combine.
Then, for the first time in his life, he prepared for surgery.
On March 24, Clark underwent a successful spinal fusion and was eventually drafted in the fifth round by America's Team. But the road to recovery was just getting started.
"Not having surgery before to sitting in the house all day, that was frustrating," said Clark.
His family is who Clark said helped him the most, as well as his new teammates, specifically fellow Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who had the same procedure done in 2019.
"Since I got here, Leighton has been the guy who checked on me every day even though I wasn't playing," said Clark. "Leighton was a guy who asked how I was doing mentally. He just kept telling me to stay prepared, your moment is going to come."
Just as his injury was unexpected, so was his defensive debut. After his 21-day window was activated in October, he got his first game snaps on Oct. 30 against the Chicago Bears. He was only expecting special team reps … until his name was called.
"I was doing a lot of (scout) teams [in practice], getting my feet and stuff back under me, and (Anthony Barr) went down in the game," said Clark. "I just remember [Senior Defensive Assistant] George [Edwards] saying, 'Damone! Damone! Go!' and I'm just like, Hey, this is my opportunity to just make the most of it. I just ran out there and it was happy. I was just happy to be out there."
Clark has now since seen action in three games ahead of Thursday's Thanksgiving matchup against the New York Giants, with ten total tackles on the season. While working through the recovery of a spinal fusion had its frustrations, he says it was all a part of the process.
"I feel like I still have the same perspective. I just feel like it wasn't my timing," said Clark. "God was blocking something that wasn't for me. It's a coincidence that the Cowboys were the ones that told me and that's the team that drafted me too."