PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There was a moment over the summer when Jack Clements was struggling. The St. Joseph’s Prep quarterback had some thought juggling to process, dealing with the prospects of inheriting a state championship team, thinking about holding up to the standard of his gutsy, popular predecessor, Chris Martin.
It was during the last seven-on-seven drill of the summer and Clements wasn’t particularly sharp. That’s when Hawks’ coach Gabe Infante pulled Clements aside with a message.
It was a cathartic moment for the senior.
“I told Jack listen, all I want to see you do is try and be the best quarterback you can be, and don’t worry about the results, win, lose, draw, seven interceptions, I don’t care,” Infante recalls telling Clements. “I told Jack if he was willing to be the best he could be, not try to be Chris Martin, or anyone else, he was going to be my guy no matter what happens. There was a freeing there at that moment that took pressure off of him I think and allowed him just to play.”
It’s exactly what the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior has done: Relaxed and just played. He has the Hawks in position to repeat as PIAA Class AAAA state champions, with The Prep playing big games in December.
Clements will have a huge test in 13-1 Pennsbury, which the Hawks face on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Northeast High School in the PIAA Class AAAA state semifinals. The Falcons, however, also have a lot to deal with in Clements, who directed the Hawks to a game-winning fourth-quarter drive in their 34-30 victory over Parkland in the state quarterfinals last Saturday.
Clements has stepped in well for the graduated Chris Martin, who led The Prep to the 2013 state championship playing on a torn ACL.
This season, Clements has completed 116-of-197 for 1,864 yards and 24 touchdowns, according to Tedsilary.com. He’s playing his best at the right time of the year. He had his issues early in the season and has overcome them. And Clements didn’t receive any breaks, with the Hawks playing a national schedule that featured national power Don Bosco Prep, Ohio’s St. Ignatius and North Jersey’s St. Joseph’s Montvale.
The Hawks began the season 1-3 and the doubters and finger-pointers began to surface. Since then, The Prep has won eight-straight games—and Clements has been a big part of that resurgence.
A lot of it has had to do with Clements’ rising confidence. Clements went from pressing to prove himself, to relaxing and having fun in the moment.
“The change happened this summer, and I began realizing more and more that this was my time,” Clements said. “Coach Infante told me that this is my show and he’ll do anything to support me. It’s kind of funny, because he said he’s handing me over the keys to the Ferrari, and let the talent on this team do the work and just drive it.”
Clements is a far different player than he was in September. There is a pronounced presence there, a command in crucial situations, like in the Parkland game, when he connected with talented sophomore D’Andre Swift for a 50-yard game-winning touchdown pass.
“I feel like I’m a totally different player than I was three months ago,” Clements said. “In the beginning of the year I tried to do too much, and I made errors. I felt I had to live up to Chris Martin and during the year my teammates built up my confidence, and my coaches helped with that.”
Clements’ teammates grew to trust him. More importantly, Clements grew to trust himself.
“I do trust myself, because I didn’t in the beginning of the year,” Clements said. “I thought I was a lot better than I actually was. I learned I didn’t have to win games as much as manage them. The goal is to win the state championship, but Pennsbury is a very good team. We’re concerned with Pennsbury, not winning the state championship. I also think we haven’t played our best game yet. I’m a lot more comfortable and relaxed—a lot more than I was in September.”
Which could be a problem for any team that faces Clements and St. Joe’s Prep.
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