Marques Clark catches a pass at Saints' training camp on Saturday, July 28. (AP)It may be part of what SI.com's Peter King recently referred to as Drew Brees' "us against the world mentality," or maybe he's just looking for a good replacement for departed third receiver Robert Meachem. What we do know is that the New Orleans Saints' quarterback has added an atypical name to his team's Preseason Dream List: 28-year-old Marques Clark, a former Henderson State player who gave up any NFL aspirations long ago, and until recently, was working as an assistant coach at Westview High in San Diego.
That changed in a process that began in 2011. Clark started working out with Brees, who does some offseason training at Westfield. All of a sudden, the man who once failed to make a UFL team and had once worked as a cashier in a casino caught the eye of perhaps the NFL's best quarterback.
"I'd watch him make a catch or watch him run a route and make it look just so natural and so easy," Brees recently told Chuck Schilken of the Los Angeles Times. "Finally, I pull him aside after one of those throwing sessions and I'm just like, 'Man, what's your story? What's the deal?'"
After the 2011 workouts, Clark was given a real sliver of NFL hope for the first time. "Last year, after Drew gave me some words of encouragement, I just went like super hard the whole rest of the summer, that whole year and came back again," Clark told Nola.com.
Brees, never one to make a hasty football decision based on emotion, came back for another offseason at Westfield and liked what he saw. He ran Clark's qualifications by backup quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield. Then, Brees spoke with Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi and director of pro scouting Ryan Pace about the 28-year-old prospect.
"Sounds crazy, right?" Brees said. "But this guy can play ... Sure enough, they bring him in, try him out, he catches every ball, looks great and they sign him up."
With that, Clark packed whatever gear he could, and headed out to Saints training camp in Metairie, La., and re-started a process he once thought was behind him -- a legitimate shot at an NFL roster.
"I won't be home until February," Clark said, "and [I'm] stuck with no clothes or anything, but it doesn't matter."
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It would be a great story if Clark could make it that far, and it wouldn't be that unusual for the Saints -- with or without Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis in charge -- to take such a flyer. Marques Colston, the team's current best receiver, was thought to be a tight end prospect coming out of Hofstra. Backup running back Chris Ivory was scooped up from Tiffin after Washington State let him go. Members of the Saints' current offensive line come from schools named Bloomsburg and Towson. Clark has been told that his story reminds some of Michael "Beerman" Lewis, who went from driving a beer truck to unexpected status as a return man for the Saints some years ago.
So, in effect, Brees is carrying on the Saints' long-held small-school underdog approach in Payton's and Loomis' absence.
Clark couldn't care less. All he knows is that he's now in the middle of an opportunity he thought was long past him.
"Every day I wake up like, 'Where am I right now? Am I really here?'" he recently said from training camp. "Every time I walk in the locker room, I'm smiling, and I don't even know why."
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