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Charlie Clemons: Ready to march with the Saints

On the heels of what he termed the most frustrating football season of his life New  Orleans Saints linebacker Charlie Clemons is back - with a vengeance.

Clemons - a key defender on the Superbowl XXXIV champion St. Louis Rams - was sidelined for the entire season last year after tearing an Achilles tendon in his second preseason game for the Saints.

Coming off his first appearance in a Superbowl, Clemons was anxious to prove himself to New Orleans after he signed a 4-year contract with them in Feb. 2000.

“What bothered me the most was the fact that I couldn't contribute to this team after they brought me in here from St. Louis,” Clemons said.

The injury was misdiagnosed at first, according to Clemons.

“It was kind of up-and-down for me because they said I had torn a calf muscle,” he said. “Then we got a second opinion and learned the real extent of the injury a couple of weeks later.”

Clemons said he believes the injury was actually years in the making.

“I think it was happening for years,” theorized Clemons. “I just did something that ruptured it last year.”

A rigorous conditioning program followed by extensive rehab helped him prepare to return to the NFL battlefields.

“I talked to a couple of guys who helped keep me focused,” Clemons said. “You know, everything happens for a reason. But I had to keep conditioning or else I would've been in real trouble. The guys here drew up a program to help me overcome it.”

As difficult as it was, Clemons said the trial forced him to lean more on God than ever before.

“That is absolutely 100 percent where I am now,” he said. “Just look back on my career. My Mom taught me about faith and belief in God. And that has seen me through all the adversities and obstacles in my life. I weathered all those ups-and-downs by the grace of God.”

One of 15 brothers and sisters, Clemons said the extended family all clung to the cross of Jesus Christ. Clemons' cousin, Jessie Tuggle, is a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons, while nephews Nic and Chris Clemons play for the Georgia Bulldogs.

“That was the whole foundation for our family. To get respect you have to give respect, and if you apply that throughout your life, you'll be successful. I mean, in the overall scheme of things we're talking about some little thing. Football is so minute compared to life.”

Clemons played high school ball for Griffin High School, followed by two years at Northeast Oklahoma Junior College, where he was named a junior college All-American. Two years at the University of Georgia provided Clemons with a jumping-off place into pro football.

He then spent three years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. This years is Clemons' fifth since signing with the Rams in early

When the Saints offered him a multi-year contract last year, and the Rams declined to match the offer, Clemons said he left St. Louis with mixed feelings.

“No question, that was a well-knit organization,” said Clemons. “Dick Vermeil took us from the bottom of the standings to a world championship in three years.”

Clemons intimated that if Vermeil hadn't resigned after the Superbowl victory, Vermeil may have told the club to match the Saints' offer.

“During the course of the years I was with the Rams he brought back people who had left. Of all the coaches I've had, he is the one coach I can honestly say cared about the players. He'd bring players in just to talk with them.”

Clemons said he wasn't surprised at Vermeil's abrupt exit, nor of the coach's return to pro football this year.

“I think he was just tired after we won the Superbowl and needed some time off,” he said. “At the same time, I wasn't surprised he came back to coaching because Dick Vermeil will always be involved with football.”

Surprisingly, Clemons said that to this day he hasn't sat back and savored the championship.

“That's one thing I really haven't had a chance to fully enjoy,” Clemons said. “Perhaps one day when I sit down with my kids and watch the game films I'll finally comprehend the meaning of it all. Once the (Superbowl) was over, I signed with the Saints and had to go to a mandatory mini-camp. Honestly, I never had the chance to sit down and think on all those memories. “

Despite the lure of fast living and fast women so often seen in the lives of today's professional athletes, Clemons says he has a greater obligation to his family and to his God.

“My family knows that after football I'll still be responsible for them,” he said. “I couldn't do that to them. You have to take yourself out of yourself and start living. Sure you struggle with it but you get to the point where you know you can be victorious over those temptations. I have to put my faith in the Lord, because some day I'll have to answer to the Lord. “I'm just happy to be healthy. I just want to do my very best and have the best season I can.”