Liberty defender TreShaun Clark closes in on New Mexico quarterback Tevaka Tuioti during the Flames' win Saturday, Sept. 28 at Williams Stadium. 

TreShaun Clark didn’t have to look far to find a father figure when he arrived on the Liberty campus over the summer. All he had to do was glance to the other end of the defensive line.

Clark’s emergence as a bonafide pass-rushing threat in his freshman season coincides with redshirt senior Jessie Lemonier becoming a mentor to the Danville native. Lemonier has spent this season grooming Clark to take the baton as the defensive end who never takes a play off and is constantly around the ball.

“He’s taken me under his wing a lot, like tremendously. He’s been like the player that I really look up to,” Clark said “I actually do call him my dad on and off the field. When I mess up, he’s always there to tell me what I did wrong, and when I’m there working on pass rush moves, he’s there to tell me what I need to do better or how hard I need to go.

“He’s just really been there to be my motivation because I want to be as good as he is. He’s just been there for me to help me keep pushing myself and to get better each day. He’s been a great help.”

Lemonier, who is playing in his final game at Williams Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday against New Mexico State, has made his impact felt through his two seasons in a Liberty uniform after transferring from Ventura College.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Lemonier has racked up 123 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks through 23 games sporting the Flames’ red, white and blue uniform.

Flames coach Hugh Freeze, defensive coordinator Scott Symons and defensive line coach Josh Aldridge immediately identified Lemonier as a leader and impact player in the spring practices. They raved about his motor, his football intelligence and ability to lead in the locker room.

Lemonier has maintained that fierce play during this season — he is third on the team with 68 tackles and leads the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks — and has used that fighting example as a base for Clark’s work ethic.

“That should be the standard. I wanted to bring my ideology basically into it, how my parents brought me up — always work hard just no matter what. Just go as hard as you can every single day because you have people relying on you,” Lemonier said. “I want people to instill that in their lives and basically think, 'If he can do it, then I can do it.' It’s just all about a mental thing and that you’ve just got to really overcome and keep fighting through the battles.”

Clark quickly picked up on Lemonier’s guidance during training camp and was listed as the redshirt senior’s backup at the Bandit position heading into the opener against Syracuse.

It was during that game when Clark realized he was on the right track.

“I would say the realization for me came the first game we had when we played Syracuse. My first play in the game, I actually got a tackle for a loss, and it was honestly a shock to me because I was like, ‘My first play of the game and I just got a tackle,’” Clark said. “My adrenaline was running, and I just realized that this was an opportunity that God gave me and He put me here for a reason, so I can be just as good as anybody else out there. I realized then that if I apply myself and I actually give it my all here, then I can be an impact to the team.”

Clark has appeared in every game this season and started each of the past five contests at defensive end. He has racked up 30 tackles (19 solo), 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

“[You'll] be hard-pressed to [find whether] there’s a whole lot better [freshman] D-ends doing what he’s doing in the country,” Symons said. “Plays hard, plays with a great motor, talented, smart. He’s a complete player. Not that he’s a complete player physically, but he has the intangibles you want for a guy. He’s hungry and he’s humble, and I think that’s why he’s had the success that he’s had.”

Clark grew up in Danville and moved with his family to Georgia before they finally settled in Florida, where he attended Cape Coral High School.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Clark was a star on the gridiron and also shined on the track and field team. He ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes, ran a leg in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, and threw the shot put.

Clark said the constant running and conditioning helped him to quickly become conditioned to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. That work ethic, coupled with learning from Lemonier, made it easier for Aldridge to move Clark over from Bandit to defensive end when the unit needed a spark.

“It’s a great feeling, and it’s a great opportunity for me,” Clark said. “I honestly didn’t even think that I would be second string when I first got here, then they told me I was second string behind Jessie. That was enough for me. I’m like, I’m getting playing time, and that’s enough for me. At least I’m on the field.

“Then as the season progressed, Coach [Aldridge] told me that we’re going to try you at end, and end was like the opposite side of the line that I was playing. It was different for me, but I learned it pretty quick and just adapted to it. It’s been a good experience. But I didn’t think I would ever be starting.”

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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