Having your number retired is one of the greatest honors an athlete can receive.
Having somebody ask to wear your number is pretty cool too.
Junior safety Malik Clements is switching from #24 to #4 this season – the number worn for the past four seasons by Zach Edwards who recently signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“That was my high school number,’ said Clements. “I asked Zach if I could have it because he’s pretty well-known around here and he let me have it. Now I have to live up to the number.”
Edwards left quite a legacy, starting 46 games at Cincinnati, grabbing eight interceptions, and finishing fourth in school history with 381 career tackles. Zach says that Clements is more than capable of filling his shoes in the Bearcats’ secondary.
“The crazy thing is, I’ve been telling people since Malik got here that he’s probably our best safety,” said Edwards. “I think he’s better than me – he just didn’t understand the game as well.”
“Zach was one of those guys that I looked up to,” said Clements. “He took me under his wing when I first got here and I appreciate how he was like a big brother to me.”
The name will be different on the back of the uniform, but it appears that #4 will remain one of Cincinnati’s starting safeties as Clements worked with the first team defense throughout most of spring football.
Earning a starting spot is one of the goals he has posted on his wall.
“It’s a motivational thing,” said Clements. “I have a bunch of goals listed to help push me. Every day I wake up to it to remind myself that no matter how I’m feeling that day I need to keep grinding.
“Becoming a starter is my main goal. There are other objectives like being All-Conference, but my main objective right now is to become a full-time starter.”
“He’s taken the bull by the horns,” said safeties coach Jon Tenuta. “I like his mentality and the way he approaches practice. He does the little things well and he’s a leader by example. He probably doesn’t talk as much as I would like him to talk, but that’s just his personality. He does all the things that we ask him to do.”
“He’s definitely a guy that has some energy to him,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “He tackles very well and we’re expecting big things out of him.”
Clements played in every game last season, led the Bearcats in special teams tackles, and made his first career start against Miami (Ohio). But the Danville, VA native says there is plenty of room for improvement.
“I don’t think I was consistent enough,” Malik told me. “I’m pretty hard on myself so I don’t think I had a good season last year. I started off pretty slow. I started to pick it up a little at the end, but overall I didn’t think I did a very good job last year.
“There’s a lot of stuff I still need to work on. I guess my biggest strength is that I play hard. I don’t really take any plays off. I like to give it my all.”
He has that in common with the previous #4 on the Cincinnati roster.
“Zach knows that I’m a competitor or else he wouldn’t let me have the number,” said Clements. “I’m going to live up to it.”
“I made sure he was going to wear it,” said Edwards.
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