Clausen QBs follow different paths
Sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway in Southern California, Casey Clausen reviews his recruitment to Tennessee, his time in the SEC and he relives a bunch of intriguing stories and vivid memories from a life of football.
The recruiting process in the late 1990s for the former Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany quarterback and current Calabasas, Calif., coach was slow as molasses compared to today's hyperactive timeline which sees many QBs commit sometime in their junior seasons or even earlier.
Clausen didn't even send highlight film out until after his junior campaign; he worked out at some camps that summer and then decided to pick the Volunteers over Oregon and Colorado the week before the first game of his senior year.
By today's standards, that's almost unheard of for a prospect with double-digit offers.
"I had 10, 15, 20 offers, so I was pretty heavily recruited, but I grew up watching Tennessee," Clausen said. "They always had the 7 p.m. SEC game and so I always watched Tennessee because Peyton (Manning) was playing at the time and they had the checkerboard and the whole thing. They were one of the schools that hadn't offered yet and I had my coach send some tape out there.
"Ultimately, I picked Tennessee because you only go through college once, the SEC was the top level of football and that's how it all went down."
While the choice might have come later than today's standards, it was the right one without question for Clausen, who threw for more than 9,700 yards and 75 touchdowns in Knoxville and finished as one of the best QBs in school history. Staying in the Pac-12 was definitely an option, but playing in the SEC was such a draw and Clausen raved about his experience with the Volunteers.
It was such a good time that when his middle brother, Rick, wanted to transfer out of LSU, mainly because of a quarterback glut that included JaMarcus Russell and Matt Mauck, Clausen told him to head to Tennessee. Rick Clausen did and that worked out well, too. He is now the Calabasas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.
Casey Clausen's Tennessee experience was a special one. He loved his teammates, and grew so close to coach Phillip Fulmer that Fulmer attended Clausen's wedding.
"It was great," Clausen said. "It was the SEC and it was football 24/7/365. Most of the towns out there are college towns. There are no NFL teams or baseball teams or hockey teams. It was football and I loved it. We had a bunch of fun, won a lot of games and I was able to play with a bunch of great players.
"(Fulmer) was a players' coach for sure, no-nonsense. He demanded a lot from his players both on and off the field. At that time, they had it going pretty well with top recruiting classes year-in and year-out. He and I keep in touch all the time. I had a great time playing for him and he's just a great coach."
Clausen's recruitment and college experience was relatively normal for a Division I quarterback at the highest level. For his younger brother, Jimmy, everything was not so ordinary.
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"It was football 24/7/365 and I loved it. We had a bunch of fun, won a lot of games and I was able to play with a bunch of great players."
-- Casey Clausen
Rated as the No. 1 overall player in the 2007 class by Rivals.com, Jimmy Clausen never lost a game in his high school career at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, a team that featured at least eight other Division I prospects. He threw for more than 10,600 yards at Oaks. In his sophomore season, as if the hype machine needed to be cranked higher, Clausen threw for 3,665 yards with 58 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Sports Illustrated wrote that Clausen, while a junior at Oaks Christian, may be a once-in-a-generation talent as a passer. In a story headlined, "The Kid with the Golden Arm," writer Kelli Anderson tells a story of Clausen throwing a football through a wall and then unsuccessfully trying to patch it up. Through. A. Wall.
Quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson, who has worked with numerous NFL starters, compared Clausen's skills to Dan Marino. Others matched his abilities to John Elway, Tom Brady and Joe Namath. Before his freshman year in high school, Clarkson said Clausen was "the LeBron James of high school football."
Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell once flew across the country from Connecticut to Los Angeles to watch Clausen in a high school game. After one half, Farrell left because he had seen enough dominance. He decided to hop in his rental car and head up the road to evaluate Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure five-star RB Darrell Scott instead.
"It was clear he was coached up from a young age and having two older brothers, that helped him out and it was a huge advantage," Farrell said. "He had a lot of poise, a lot of maturity and he was just one of those guys who could make every throw and make it look easy, almost too easy because they just destroyed everybody.
"The tough part was to gauge him against the best competition, but even at the Army Bowl, I thought he was excellent against the best in the country."
USC and South Carolina were two other serious contenders. The Trojans were the local draw and a school with a long line of phenomenal quarterbacks and the Gamecocks had coach Steve Spurrier. But Notre Dame landed his commitment in grand, overstated and, some would say, outlandish fashion.
Wearing his championship rings, Clausen arrived at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., in a Hummer limousine with a police escort for his commitment ceremony. It was over-the-top, completely overdone and according to Farrell and Casey Clausen, mainly orchestrated by then-Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and his staff for recruiting headlines.
Fighting the stigma that Notre Dame was too conservative and possibly not in touch with top high school athletes, Weis apparently decided that getting Clausen to commit in true Hollywood fashion (the spiky blond hair certainly did not hurt) would benefit Notre Dame's recruiting class and the program's perceived image issues.
For his part, Clausen was respectful and delivered an impressive speech at the ceremony. He thanked God and his family, called his brothers his "heroes" and thanked Clarkson, his high school team and all the college coaches for recruiting him. He was, well, ordinary and not chasing the spotlight.
When Clausen announced for Notre Dame, the place erupted. Other than the limousine and the theatrics, Farrell said he thought it was a perfectly fine commitment event.
"It wasn't (Clausen's) fault," Farrell said. "It wasn't his doing. Charlie Weis was a tremendous recruiter at Notre Dame. I always had respect for Charlie Weis as a coach and as somewhat of a showman even though that wasn't his personality. They did everything they could to make that a big deal.
"That was one of those situations where Notre Dame wanted to make an impression on the rest of the recruiting class so they had it at the Hall of Fame. They (the Clausen family) was really told we're going to make this a red-carpet event, wear your rings, dress flashy, and we're going to make a show of it.
"They took it too far, but it didn't bother me at all. I've seen a lot of garbage announcements over the years, kids flipping coins and throwing hats down and ripping jerseys off and having another jersey underneath it. That stuff bothers me. This didn't. He knew he was going to Notre Dame, he went to Notre Dame, he did it in a flashy way but he wasn't really behind it. People didn't like him to start with because he was going to Notre Dame, but from that day he was probably the most-hated recruit from every other fan base that I've dealt with in a long time."
Casey Clausen knew it was too much of a circus atmosphere and considered it a mistake. He knew his brother's hype was getting completely out of control and impossible to live up to. No matter what Jimmy Clausen did at Notre Dame, it wouldn't be enough.
"The hype on him just because he had two older brothers who played was already non-realistic," Clausen said. "Going in there that weekend the whole deal was not so much him but they had a bunch of the top guys in the country, so they tried to make this whole deal. I was like, 'I don't think this is the greatest idea.'"
Clausen had been through the SEC ringer and understood the stakes, the delicate balance between being a top recruit and being perceived as a prima donna. He appreciated why Notre Dame wanted it a certain way, but still thought it was a misstep. In some sense, it was setting his brother up for unattainable expectations.
"No matter what you do it's never going to be good enough," Clausen said. "You can be a freshman quarterback and go to Alabama where they're loaded at every position and you're still going to struggle. Imagine being a freshman quarterback at Notre Dame where the team coming back is not very good.
"All the hype and all the expectations, they expected him to go out there and throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns and that wasn't going to happen."
Because of some injuries, Casey Clausen said the family expected Jimmy to be redshirted his freshman year. That didn't happen. Clausen was named the starter after a season-opening loss to Georgia Tech. But the Irish kept losing and Clausen, who was whacked around all season, was replaced as the starter.
After an up-and-down sophomore season where Notre Dame finished 7-6, Clausen threw for more than 3,700 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions as a junior, bouncing back to his old days and living up to some of the headlines he earned in high school. The Irish still finished 6-6 and Clausen was off to the NFL Draft.
Projected as a possible top 10 pick, Clausen fell to the Carolina Panthers at No. 48. He never seemed to get his footing in Carolina for various reasons, some completely out of his control, and after the Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Clausen's time with that organization was limited.
He's now the backup in Chicago behind Jay Cutler. Did Clausen live up to the mind-boggling hype laid on him when he was in high school? No. Has he become the once-in-a-generation passer? No. But he has carved out a career as a quarterback in the NFL, he has earned millions and he's set up for another run this season with the Bears.
Not so bad.
"It speaks to his perseverance and his work ethic," Casey Clausen said. "He really is a hard worker and always has been."
Casey would know.
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