A different Clausen at controls for Vols

Published: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
There were players voted to All-Southeastern Conference teams, preseason and postseason, big bruisers and sleek skill position players in shiny suits. And then there was him, with the shaved head and chubby cheeks hardly resembling his Val Kilmer-lookalike brother.
And so, at SEC Media Days, we chuckled and wondered why Tennessee would bring a backup quarterback to Hoover, Ala. Knoxville News Sentinel columnist John Adams wrote as much.
On Saturday, Rick Clausen gets the last laugh and does so with indifference. Everyone knew - just knew - that Erik Ainge would be the starter for Tennessee when the mighty Vols came to Gainesville.
"Everyone who doubted me, who thought Erik Ainge would be the starter, everyone's entitled to their opinion," Clausen said in a teleconference Wednesday. "I don't need people to pat me on the back. I just want the respect of my teammates.
"Once people get to know me, they understand I don't care what other people think. Not much gets to me. I just go with the flow. I don't care if people like me. I just want them to respect me."
Clausen is used to a lack of respect by now. His older brother Casey was a four-year starter at Tennessee. His younger brother Jimmy, who plays at Oaks Christian High in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.
Rick Clausen is a senior who has started four games and is playing at his second school. At LSU, he was on what he calls now "a totem pole" with seven other quarterbacks, never knowing if a bad practice would drop him from second or third on the depth chart to sixth or seventh.
So he transferred to Tennessee where his brother was playing and - after sitting out a year - found himself in another quarterback battle, another battle that would be lost.
Phil Fulmer went with rotating quarterbacks, a pair of freshmen with plenty of talent. Ainge was one of them, Brent Shaeffer the other. Shaeffer was injured first, then Ainge.
That opened the door for Clausen, who performed admirably. He won twice to end the regular season before struggling in the SEC title game against Auburn. Clausen bounced back to help the Vols blitz Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
But when the season started, it was back to Ainge. Better arm, better upside even if Clausen had been sharper in the scrimmages. Clausen was in Hoover because he was a good story, elected team captain in the summer because his teammates thought so much of him.
"Rick is one of the most incredible people I've had a chance to coach," Fulmer said. "The team concept is very important to him."
Hoover was almost like a farewell party for Clausen - we figured - one last moment in the sunshine.
Then came UAB. Clausen was inserted into the Tennessee opener on a predetermined schedule and played well. When Ainge went back in, he struggled. Clausen came back off the bench to rescue the Vols.
On Saturday night, it's his game. Ainge could play, probably will, but Clausen gets the start and could go the distance if he keeps the Vols in control.
"Rick Clausen, all that kid does is win games. All I keep hearing is, 'Yeah, but his arm strength.' His arm strength is fine," said Florida coach Urban Meyer. "Just ask Texas A&M how his arm strength is. He's not very mobile, but he's mobile enough to win games."
So was his older brother. Casey Clausen, now an assistant coach at Mississippi State, won twice in The Swamp. Rick wants to carry on the family tradition.
"We talk every night," Rick said. "We throw some ideas back and forth. He's tried to look at some Florida tape. He has just told me to enjoy it."
Both Clausens know what a Saturday night is like in Gainesville. Rick was here in 2002 with LSU, taking a snap in a blowout win. So technically, it's Clausens 3, Gators 0.
Florida is starting over with Meyer. In a way, so is Rick Clausen.
Again. You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.
You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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