By Ben Badua
There were times he thought about quitting. Taking a
post-graduate year at Phillips Andover, Sam Clark '13 wasn't
entirely sure he even wanted to play college football. Maybe he'd
walk away from the game altogether and attend a large state school
in the South. If he did choose to continue his career, he had his
sights set on the Patriot League - not Amherst. It was too small
and it wasn't for him.
Lou Jacoubs '13 never had any doubts. His father starred for Brockton High and played in college. Since first putting on pads in seventh grade, he knew that's what he wanted to do too. Despite initially wanting to attend a school in a more urban setting, Jacoubs quickly fell in love with the College on the Hill and applied early decision after joining Clark for a PG year at Andover.
"I remember telling Lou I wasn't really interested in a school that small," said Clark. "I wasn't drawn to Amherst at first, but he was a big factor in my decision. Lou and I came up for a visit with another friend of ours and once I realized how good of a school it was academically, I knew there was really no other option for me."
"I fell in love with the place," Jacoubs added. "After my meeting with Coach Mills, my dad walked out of the office and said, 'That's the guy you want to play for.' Right at that moment I knew I wanted to go to Amherst."
Arriving in the fall of 2009 as first-year linebackers, neither Clark nor Jacoubs expected to see much time on the field. Both hoped to make an impact on special teams, while taking advantage of any opportunities that came their way. For Clark, that chance presented itself just three games into his rookie season.
Clinging onto a 10-0 lead at Middlebury, he was inserted into the lineup because of an injury early in the second quarter. With the Panthers driving inside the 25-yard line, Clark dropped back into coverage on a crucial third down. As senior linebacker Mike Taylor put a big hit on Middlebury's quarterback, he got his hands on his first career interception.
Racing downfield, Clark could barely contain his excitement. Despite getting caught by a lineman 64 yards later (whom he contends had the right angle), he'd given the Jeffs' the ball back in the red zone, setting up another Amherst touchdown. Still up 17-0 late in the third quarter, Clark again ended a promising Middlebury drive, nabbing his second pick of the day in the end zone.
"If he doesn't get in that game, does his career go a separate way?" asked head coach E.J. Mills. "We always talk about taking advantage of your opportunities because you only get so many. If there's ever someone that did that, it was Sam Clark and he's been in the lineup ever since."
The transition to the collegiate game wasn't as smooth for
Jacoubs. Middling on the team's third-string, he struggled to get
on the field behind a deep and talented linebacking core, seeing
action in just three games during his first year. Having a hard
time in coverage, Jacoubs wasn't adjusting to the defensive scheme
as well as the squad's smaller, quicker linebackers.
During the following preseason, he tried to address his shortcomings in pass coverage. Jacoubs had a tendency to jump the shallow drag route instead of dropping back to play the deeper dig (something about the underneath receiver coming across the field just always grabbed his attention).
Hoping to shed the nickname "Drag-ball Louie," Jacoubs resisted
the urge to jump the receiver in front of him during an intra-squad
scrimmage and came away with an interception. But just as things
seemed to finally be falling into place,he met with Mills. They
were moving him to the defensive line.
Initially Jacoubs wasn't thrilled, but from the coaching staff's perspective it was the best way to utilize his skills. He had talent. They could see that and wanted to find a place for him on the field. While he didn't have the speed to decrease space in the passing game, what he did have was the strength and power to battle in the trenches.
"It's Lou's mentality to go for the kill shot on every play," said Clark. "That's why defensive line is such an awesome fit for him."
"After a week or two, I learned to love it," Jacoubs said. "It's a totally different game. It's a lot more physical, but that's kind of what I like. I can just go full speed ahead and do my thing."
A consummate team player, the aspiring Navy Seal embraced and excelled in his new role. In 2010, he played in all eight games, making three starts. Continuing to develop as a junior, he improved as the year wore on, enjoying a stellar second half of the season. His vision, hands and footwork had adjusted to life on the line and he found himself consistently around the ball, making plays, and ranking among the team's leaders in tackles for loss.
On the verge of an undefeated season, Jacoubs enjoyed one of his defining moments in Purple & White. He first noticed it the Wednesday before the Williams game. He was getting sick. Maybe it's just a 24-hour thing. I'll beat it. Thursday it got worse and by Friday it was official: he had the flu. Waking up on gameday, he was still hurting. He could barely keep the potato wedge and piece of egg he had at breakfast down on the bus ride to Williamstown.
Making eye contact with Mills, he thought: I'll be sick tomorrow. It was potentially the biggest game of his life and despite not practicing all week, he wasn't going to miss it. Besides, Mills had a rule: you don't get sick during the season.
"You wouldn't have known Lou was deathly ill," said Clark. "I lived in the same suite, so we knew he was kind of sick, but he just put his head down and did his job and did it extremely effectively that day."
"My team needed me," Jacoubs said. "It's about putting them first. Instead of focusing on my own pain, I just wanted to help the team out."
Playing what defensive line coach Eddy Augustin called his best game of the year, Jacoubs finished second on the team with nine tackles, including seven solo. Giving the Ephs problems all afternoon, he helped the Jeffs wrap up their second 8-0 season in three years. To celebrate, he put on Sportscenter, a pair of earplugs, drank half a bottle of Nyquil and slept for 16 hours.
Finally starting together for the first time, Clark and Jacoubs now serve as the bedrock for Amherst's top-ranked defensive unit. Through five games in 2012, the Jeffs are giving up a league-low 12.0 points and 77.8 rushing yards a game, as the duo have settled into their roles as senior captains and leaders.
A four-year starter, Clark made it a point to learn every facet
of the Jeffs' scheme and mentor the team's younger players. Also a
two-year captain, he helps serve as the defense's signal-caller,
setting the tone for the front seven.
"Being a captain is an all-encompassing effort both on and off the field," said Clark. "It's making a personal investment in the young guys and making them feel welcome."
With Clark studying abroad in Madrid last spring, Jacoubs took an active leadership role during the offseason, organizing the team's voluntary workouts. Staying in touch on Skype, he kept his fellow captain updated on the squad's 5 a.m. "Black Friday" runs up Memorial Hill as the Jeffs put in the work to prepare for the upcoming season.
"They're great players," said Mills. "But more importantly, they're great kids."
"I always look at it from this standpoint: would I trust my children with this person?" asked defensive coordinator Luke Bussard. "I would have no problem trusting those two."
Their trustworthiness has extended to endeavors off the field, with the pair becoming the football team's defacto point people for the College's Reunion Weekend. Working every reunion since their arrival, they have cultivated a deeper sense of appreciation for Amherst, while reminiscing and interacting with nostalgic alumni.
Four years after Andover, Clark and Jacoubs near the end of a journey they began together as post-graduates. Looking back, Clark remembered his first experience with the College. It was during a prospect camp in the summer. After beautiful day of football, he recalled getting into the car with his dad, who asked what he thought.
"I could never see myself in a school like this," he answered.
In a conversation with his father years later, Clark learned that him ending up at a 'school like this' was everything his dad could have dreamed of and more. Despite his initial hesitation, Clark has since admitted he has no regrets choosing the College on the Hill, a sentiment Jacoubs has long since shared. But while it may have been Jacoubs that made the early decision, the important thing is that both can say they made the right one.