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November 19, 2012

Clemens' Goal Scoring Gives Tech Soccer Team a Kick

By: Marc Mullen

David Clemens’ experience playing older competition as a kid in New York helped him become the Hokies’ top offensive threat this season

David Clemens

OK, well, maybe not a “machine,” but Virginia Tech men’s soccer player David Clemens has certainly provided the scoring option so desperately needed by Tech head coach Mike Brizendine since the program’s magical run to the NCAA ‘s College Cup more than five years ago.

Heading into an ACC Tournament match vs. Maryland, Clemens had amassed nine goals and helped the Hokies to seven victories – both team highs since 2007. He also stood fifth in the ACC in goals, and no matter how you slice it, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment for the junior, who was coming off an injury from last year that limited him to just 10 games played.

“I broke my [right] foot last fall, just hitting a shot, too,” Clemens said of his injury. “I guess it was already damaged, and I played on it. It was also devastating because it was just after I couldn’t redshirt. I had already played too many games [by NCAA regulations], so I tried to come back a little too quick and reinjured it. That injury was just a nightmare because I couldn’t redshirt. It was also very difficult mentally going through that.

“In the spring, I was just trying to get back into the flow of things and get back adjusted to playing. I think I’ve been able to settle in and find my own game a bit more and have progressed to the ACC with my comfort and speed of the game. I still think I could have done a little bit more this season to help the team. Hopefully, I can take it to another level next year.”

Taking it to another level would be remarkable for Clemens, who accomplished several noteworthy things this year. No Hokie has scored more than seven goals in one year since Patrick Nyarko tallied 16 as a junior in 2006 when he led the ACC, and no Hokie has finished in the top eight in goals scored since Nyarko as well.

He finished as the team’s leader in goals for the second straight season – yes, despite playing just 10 games last year, he tied for the team lead with two, while he scored four as a freshman. The team went 4-1-1 when he scored a goal in 2012.

Lastly, he registered his first collegiate hat trick, with the feat coming against VMI in late September, one of just three players in the ACC with a hat trick this season. And this wasn’t your “blowout” kind that the previous two Hokies notched – Robert Albertio at Howard in 2010 in a 7-2 victory (ironically, Clemens had two goals in the match and assisted on Albertio’s first goal) and Nyarko, also against VMI, in a 7-1 win in 2006.

Clemens accounted for all of Tech’s tallies against the Keydets, scoring two in the opening half in the 31st and 42nd minutes. However, VMI cut the Tech lead in half at 2-1 before Clemens iced the game with his third goal with four minutes left to seal the victory.

“I had never done that [a hat trick] in college soccer before, so it was really awesome. It took me back to my high school days when I had done it there,” Clemens said. “But I’d rather score a late game-winning goal than have a hat trick because it’s all about the team really and the success of this team. This year, we’ve really come a long ways from my freshman year, so I’d rather score the game-winning goal and get a win in that column.”

Two components came together to get Clemens to where he is today. The first is his athletic ability, which he attributes to his father, Khris, who is described, according to the Siena College website, as “possibly the greatest second baseman in the history of Siena baseball.”

Khris is still among the school’s all-time leaders in stolen bases and runs scored, and played a summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 1982.

“Yeah, my dad played baseball in college. He’s actually in the Hall of Fame for baseball at Siena College,” Clemens said. “So when I was a kid, I played baseball. I was a right-handed pitcher, and I also played basketball and soccer. Then, as you get older, you have to commit more time to one or another, and I’ve always loved soccer the most, so I just stuck with that.

“I was probably like 12 years old when I started really focusing on soccer. I actually really didn’t even like baseball all that much to be honest.”

With his choice to pursue soccer, Clemens credited both his parents for his development, with his father providing much of the coaching and his mother, Nancy, providing a unique experience.

“My dad actually picked up soccer after college and really got into it,” Clemens said. “He was my coach growing up. He was my coach for almost eight years, and he was a big part in my development.

“My mom works at a place called Afrim’s Sports. It’s a huge indoor soccer complex. It’s got four 5-vs.-5 fields and a weight room, and mini fields. It’s pretty much the ultimate soccer place, and I’ve pretty much grown up there. That’s kind of how I developed playing soccer as well.”

Indoor facilities are key in keeping kids advancing in any outdoor sport over the cold, winter months in Ballston Lake, N.Y., which is a 10-minute drive north of the New York state capital city of Albany. The area averages around 60 inches of snow a year.

But that wasn’t the only factor that helped Clemens mature as a soccer player. It was literally the men around him who shaped and molded his talent.

“I was playing in the men’s league with my dad’s team when I was like 12,” he said. “There are a lot of international players there because it’s run by a guy from Albania, Afrim Nezaj. We’re like family with him, and my mom’s like the head of that place. So he was always letting me play with the older guys.

“There was also an indoor professional team, a USL team called the New York Shockers, so I was growing up with all those guys all the time, and they always brought me in and let me play with them. I think that’s really what was important in my development as a kid.

“There were all these Albanian guys and Jamaican guys, just international guys from everywhere. I still work with them in the summers. I helped build a turf field on one of the outside fields. It was just me and six of the guys, who are like 30 now, but they just dominate those men’s leagues, and we’re still pretty good friends.”

Playing with those international guys at such a young age proved valuable for Clemens, who began to play against international players roughly his own age as he began competing with the New York state team. In 2005, he went to the United Kingdom to compete in soccer tournaments, and later on, with the regional Olympic Development Program team, he went to South Africa.

“That New York state team was real good. If you go back and look at those players, some of them are playing professionally already, and they are my age,” Clemens said. “The rest are all Division I guys, and that was a good team when we were younger. We went to Arsenal Festival [an international soccer tournament] and played teams from Iraq, Portugal, England, Germany, everywhere. And that was a great experience.

“I also went to South Africa, and we played a bunch of U-19 professional teams like the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, which are real big professional teams down there. So that was a good experience, too, because we were all like 17 and they were all 19, so it was a great challenge and honor to play them.”

Whether it’s in his backyard, at Tech, or in other countries, Clemens has always been playing against older, more experienced competition. Next year, his final season of collegiate soccer, the shoe will be on the other foot and maybe he can channel his high school exploits one more time.

As a senior at Shenendehowa, he led his team to the league title, the sectional crown and the state final four, all while tallying 23 goals and eight assists. He was named the area’s co-Offensive Player of the Year and was voted an All-American.

Given those numbers, he certainly could be considered a scoring machine. Hopefully, he’ll continue to find the net with even more regularity for the Hokies next season.


What’s one interesting thing about you?

I have two tattoos, and I’m getting a third, a half sleeve soon. I really like them. I think it’s a cool way to express yourself. I have one on my ribs. It’s the name of my best friend, Robbie Hoch’s dad, Larry, who just passed away from cancer. So we both got one for him. The other one is for St. Christopher, and my half sleeve is going to be a bunch of art that the artist and I just came up with.

What’s your favorite thing about playing soccer at Tech?

I just love how we get to play soccer every day, and we get the best facilities and treatment whenever you’re hurt. Playing every day for me is the best part of being a student-athlete.

And the worst?

The school load. It’s tough having to wake up early for practice and then having to go to classes, and you’re dead tired and you have to go to bed by like 10:30 every night. That’s not the average life of other college students.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I like to golf a lot. So some of us go golfing quite a bit on the Tech course, at least as much as possible. And a lot us play video games, FIFA mostly. We spend a lot of time doing that. FIFA13 just came out. I’ve got to go with Manchester United. That’s my team. That’s my squad in real life, too.