I would take a flyer on Clark. LSU linebackers coach Blake Baker, left, speaks with linebacker Damone Clark (18) during the second half of the Tigers' 27-14 win over the Warhawks, Saturday, November 20, 2021, at Tiger Stadium. The day Damone Clark underwent the surgery that lowered his draft stock, former LSU linebackers coach Blake Baker spoke to him over the phone. Clark still felt the waning effects of anesthesia and tried to brush off what he had gone through. “ ‘I'm not in any pain,’ ” Baker recalled Clark saying. “ ‘I'm going to be back soon.’ ” Clark and Baker talked again the next day, as they have multiple times a week ever since they became close during their only season together. By then, the medicine had worn off. Clark recognized what he faced again. “ ‘This is for real,’ ” Baker recalled Clark saying. Clark stayed as positive as he could over the next month, but it was sometimes hard not to think about how spinal fusion surgery for a herniated disk in late March affected his future. After struggling at times in his first year as a starter, Clark had turned himself into one of the top linebackers in college football last season. He led the Southeastern Conference with 137 tackles. Every evaluator Baker talked to thought Clark would be a top-40 pick in the NFL draft this weekend. Another LSU player selected as Tyrion Davis-Price goes No. 93 overall in NFL draft Instead, Clark was still available Friday night after the end of the third round. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, he was considered a second-day pick before an MRI at the NFL scouting combine. “He's been positive,” Baker said, “but I do think the realization of everything this weekend will probably hit him a little bit differently.” The test results shocked Clark and his family. He never had an injury issue at LSU, never complained to his parents about something like that. He started every regular-season game last season before opting out of the Texas Bowl to train for the draft in California. Once a second opinion recommended surgery, Clark decided to have the operation. His parents, Damon and Katice, flew to California. During one conversation before the procedure, Clark’s father remembered the surgeon saying, “He'll be playing ball at the end of this year, promise you.” They high-fived. “It wasn't as bad as we thought,” said Clark’s father, Damon. LSU cornerback Cordale Flott selected No. 81 overall in the NFL draft As Clark recovered from what his father called a “successful” surgery, he returned to Louisiana with his parents. He wore a protective brace around his neck for a few weeks, a precautionary measure to make sure no one slapped him too hard on the back in public. Clark has since started physical therapy. He works out at LSU. He can drive and pick up his daughter, Dakotah, again. Full recovery will take time — he may miss his rookie year — but he expects to play football. “He's determined to prove himself,” Clark’s father said. “He wants to practice. He wants to pick weights up.” The hardest part has been realizing he wouldn’t go in the first or second round after working as hard as he did over the last year. Clark says all the right things. He doesn’t get too down. But he knows he has enough talent and made enough tackles to go early in the draft. The surgery pushed him back into uncertainty. He didn’t want to watch the first round Thursday night. LSU offensive guard Ed Ingram picked No. 59 overall in NFL draft by Minnesota Vikings “It took a lot of momentum from him,” Clark’s father said. Someone is still bound to take a chance on Clark. The emotional leader of LSU’s team and a recipient of No. 18 last season, he made open-field tackles, pressured quarterbacks on blitzes, shed blockers and improved as a pass defender. His father said Clark spoke with at least 11 teams. “Everything clicked with him,” draft analyst and WWL-AM host Mike Detillier said. “You saw his physicality, his speed, his athleticism. Everything worked.” Anticipating something, Clark’s family and friends gathered to watch the second and third days of the draft together. He franticly called his mom this week asking what he should wear. She told him to relax, but he just wants to know where he’ll end up. Clark had to wait longer than he anticipated a few months ago. But he believes he will hear his name. "He'll be the steal of the draft," Baker said. "I really believe that."