Midnight wake-up call ushered in Kenny Clark's big day

Packers defensive tackle excited to continue his career in Green Bay

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DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – Kenny Clark was tired, really tired.

So tired the Packers' fifth-year defensive tackle got home from Lambeau Field at 6 p.m. Friday and was in bed within two hours, in preparation for the team's first practice of training camp on Saturday morning.

That was until Clark's mother, Nicole, and his agent, Doug Hendrickson, started blowing up his phone before he could get deep into his REM cycle.

The interruption was valid. The contract extension Clark and his camp had been working toward all offseason was on the table and all that was needed was the Pro Bowler's blessing.

"I woke up at like 12 and called them back," Clark said. "They were like, 'Man, we've got to get this deal done.' … We talked about it. He went through the numbers, went through everything, and I was like, 'Man, let's do it. I'm willing to do it.'"

Hours later, Packers vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball handed Clark the contract he's worked all of his 24 years for.

Visibly shaking, and with his mom crying over the other end of the phone, Clark put pen to paper on an extension that secures his future and will keep the former first-round pick in Green Bay for the long haul.

It was an emotional 24 hours for the Clarks, who overcame a lot of difficult times to get to this point. Kenny was only 9 years old when his father and namesake was incarcerated, leading to Nicole having to raise the couple's children on her own, often pulling double shifts as a nurse to make ends meet.

Kenny remains close with his father, but hasn't been able to talk to him because of restrictions put in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His mom, sisters and brothers were all through the roof about his extension, though.

"We've been through a lot," Clark said. "My mom, she called me and she was crying. My brother, he's so excited. I know my dad is probably feeling it right now. I'm just blessed. That's all I could say. I'm just blessed. I'm just happy about this opportunity. I done worked hard for this. I really believe I deserve it and just excited to move forward as a Packer."

Take a look at photos of Green Bay Packers DL Kenny Clark through the years

Still only 24, Clark has emerged as one of the game's top nose tackles. A first-round pick out of UCLA in 2016, he's played in all but four games for the Packers over the last four years, recording 193 tackles, 16½ sacks and four forced fumbles. Twelve of those sacks came in his last two seasons.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Clark's 49 pressures and 43 disruptions in 2019 were second only to perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald among defensive tackles.

The 6-foot-3, 313-pounder has been a key part of Green Bay's schematic evolution over the past five years, where nose tackles are a more integral part of the pass rush and not just gap-fillers against the run.

"I've just been focused on, pass rush and being able to be an all-around player," Clark said. "I think (this) really solidifies, really shows nose tackles can do both and get paid high and I'm just excited about it."

Known as a quiet, steady presence on the field and in the locker room, Clark was showered with cheers by his teammates and coaches after Head Coach Matt LaFleur had his defensive tackle break the huddle following Saturday's opening practice.

Later that day, several of Clark's teammates voiced their excitement over his extension on Twitter. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who trains with Clark at ProActive in California during the offseason, also couldn't have been more pleased by the news.

"I think Kenny sometimes has been an underrated player for us over the years," Rodgers said. "He's a quiet guy who goes about his business the right way. He's found his voice at times and his leadership role has increased over the years. It's been fun to watch him kind of step into that opportunity. He's one of those guys you just know you can count on every single week."

The Green Bay Packers held their first practice of training camp at Ray Nitschke Field on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

Clark feels like there's still a lot out there for him yet, as well. He made his Pro Bowl debut this past January and hopes to soon be recognized as a perennial All-Pro…and possibly even a "Top 100" NFL player.

With his future secure, Clark looks forward to focusing all his attention on taking his game, and the entire Packers' defense, to the next level in 2020. He expects he'll move around more this year and wants to make more "splash plays."

"Everybody was just happy, man. It's a family here," Clark said. "Love it here, love the guys here, love playing with everybody here. I'm excited about being on this team."

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