Mark Clements taps his chest twice and points to the sky before football games this season.
The Oakcrest High School senior wears No. 10 instead of the No. 3 he wore his first three seasons.
He does this all for his oldest brother, Trumaine, who was shot and killed on July 11 while sitting in car on a Pleasantville street corner. He was 26 years old. Trumaine wore No. 10 when he played for Oakcrest.
Mark, one of the Cape-Atlantic League's best defensive backs and wide receivers, will attend Villanova University on a football scholarship.
Despite his brother's death, Mark never missed a day preparing for this season.
"It was real tough for me and my family," he said. "You just try to surround yourself with good people. You surround yourself with your closest friends."
Mark also took solace in football.
"I love playing football,' he said. "It makes you deal with everything so much better. When those Friday night lights come on, you don't have anything else to worry about except that game."
Mark, 17, is the youngest of three brothers. All three played football. Trumaine played quarterback at Oakcrest as a sophomore in 1999.
John, 24, starred at defensive back and wide receiver for St. Joseph in Hammonton. The Wildcats won state titles all four of John's seasons and he was a Press All-Star as a junior in 2003 and a senior in 2004.
John also excelled at the University of New Hampshire, helping lead the team to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as a senior in 2008.
But despite his older brothers' success, Mark didn't play organized football until the eighth grade.
"I was just a real laid-back kid," Mark said. "I didn't want to play football and have my grades go down."
Mark did play pickup football with his older brothers in the backyard of their Mays Landing home, where they lived with their mother, Rose.
"We roughed him a little bit," John said, "just to see how tough he was."
Mark also played plenty of "Madden" and "NCAA Football" video games. John would bring home friends from college and Mark would beat them in the video games.
"We always thought he was going to be a coach," John said. "He started playing video games at 5 years old. My friends would make bets with him on who would win the game, and Mark would take their money."
When Mark finally took up football, it didn't take long for him to be a success.
"When Mark started playing, that's all he wanted to do," John said. "We knew he was going to be something special."
He made the Oakcrest varsity as a freshman. He intercepted seven passes to help the Falcons finish 9-3 and reach the South Jersey Group IV final last season.
Oakcrest opened this season with a 41-16 loss to Holy Spirit last Friday. But Spirit forfeited the win this week because it used an academically ineligible player. The 5-foot-10, 172-pound Clements was one of the best players on the field in the game, catching three passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, making four tackles and breaking up a pass.
Oakcrest (1-0) plays at Millville (1-0) at 7 p.m. today in a game that will affect both teams' playoff chances. Oakcrest is No. 7 in The Press Elite 11.
Oakcrest coach Chuck Smith said Mark is a natural athlete who is always positive on the field even when things aren't going well. Mark considered playing lacrosse last spring. Smith said he scored seven goals in one practice before dropping the sport to concentrate on football.
"He's a natural athlete," Smith said. "He can do whatever he wants. He's a great cover corner and at the same time he's our best wide receiver."
Trumaine, John and Mark were all close. John is in his second year as an Oakcrest assistant. Mark admitted it's strange having John coach him. Mark calls John "Coach Clements" on the field.
"I didn't want to call him John because I had to give him the respect of being a coach," Mark said.
John can be Mark's biggest critic. Sometimes the two have mini-disputes.
"He knows I'm only trying to make him better," John said. "He might think I'm riding him, but I know the level he can play at and his potential."
Mark is one of Oakcrest's captains. Smith said he received a vote from every player on the team.
"I think a lot of the kids look up to him," Smith said.
But Mark also knows what the team means to him and that was clear this summer. He leaned on his teammates after Trumaine's death. Mike Blackwell and Syid Evans-White were among the Falcons to visit Mark the night of the shooting.
"They were the first ones at my door," Mark said. "We're all brothers in this whole thing. We're all one. It feels like you're not alone."
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