Aspiring dentist Malik Clements rattling teeth while playing linebacker for Bombers

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Malik Clements is the type of person who sets out goals and then does his very best to achieve them, no matter how long it might take.

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For instance, he has already taken all of the pre-requisite college courses in order to one day fulfil his lifelong goal of going to dental school.

That, of course, is a long-term dream, as he is currently employed as a weak-side linebacker for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

His short-term goal a couple of months ago was simply to earn a roster spot with the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, after being released by the Edmonton Elks — the worst team in the CFL in 2021.

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Now that he’s starting, in place of the injured Kyrie Wilson, Clements has the goal of making an impact, game in and game out, and so far he’s very much living up to his aspirations.

“There’s a lot to like,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Wednesday, after the team held a closed practice at IG Field.

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“He certainly runs hard to the football all the time. He’s in the right places. And he can hit. When he makes a tackle, there’s just a pop in there and our guys really enjoy it.”

Clements has played in six of the Bombers’ seven games and has started the last three at weak-side linebacker. He has 15 defensive tackles and a sack over the last four games and perhaps his best performance came last Friday night against the Elks in Edmonton, when he had five tackles and knocked down a pass that wound up being intercepted by defensive back Deatrick Nichols.

The drop-off from Wilson, a 2021 Grey Cup hero who was having a stellar season before suffering an Achilles injury in Toronto on July 4, has been negligible.

“We haven’t scaled back the game-plan or anything like that,” Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall said. “He’s picked it up, he asks questions, and he’s playing beside (Adam Bighill), who’s a great communicator. Each week you see different aspects of his game coming out because he’s feeling more comfortable. He’s a very athletic player and you see that out on the field.”

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Bighill talked about how smart Clements is, how he studies the game, puts in all kinds of film work and gets results.

“It’s what you want to see,” Bighill said.

“He came in and he just had a good work ethic about him. He asked a lot of great questions that are kind of next-level questions, beyond the basics. You could tell he understands football and he’s a good athlete. You put those two together and he can play fast, and it’s a good combination.”

Intelligence is clearly an important quality for the 25-year-old Clements, who hails from Danville, Va., and played college football at the University of Cincinnati.

He got an undergrad degree in psychology, with an eye on dentistry in the future, and yet his true passion is football.

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So for now, he’s rattling teeth on the field. Later on in life, he’ll be fixing them.

“It’s just a love that I have, that I gained in high school,” Clements said. “I had braces and my orthodontist was a big football fan and he used to joke with me all the time ‘Maybe you should just be a dentist instead.’ He said that every time I went to visit him for my appointments.

“I asked if I could shadow him one day and see what it’s about and I actually fell in love with it. You’re around kids and you see the joy on their faces once their braces come off. It’s just something I want to be a part of because I’m a guy that wants to be a helping hand, in any way.”

He’s certainly been helping the Bombers, who will take a 7-0 record into Calgary for Saturday’s game against the 4-1 Stampeders.

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Winnipeg has had its fair share of injuries this year and it’s players like Clements who have made the organization’s “next-man-up mentality” work so well.

“I’ve got guys around me, big-time leaders, that make you feel comfortable in your position,” Clements said. “Everybody is out there communicating and I’ve got great coaches that put me in position to make plays. It’s just on me to go out there and do my one-twelfth and execute.”

Clements played seven games with the Elks last season and was part of a team that went 3-11 in a shortened season. He had 11 defensive tackles and two special teams tackles.

When the Elks hired veteran coach Chris Jones in the off-season, Clements received a call, telling him his services were no longer required.

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“He wanted to bring in a lot of his guys, that he knew and fit his cultural type,” Clements said. “It was nothing personal, but he wanted to clean house, basically.

“It was kind of like a blessing in disguise because this opportunity came up right after that.

“I knew I had to wait my turn and an opportunity came up so I just have to take advantage each week.”

With plenty of good years ahead of him as a football player, Clements is in no rush to get back to school and, ideally, set up a dental practice in his hometown.

“I can go back to school any time,” he said. “Football is my first love. I’m gonna play as long as I can and think about dental school later.”

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