2010-04-22 / Sports

Clausen on the clock

Love him or loathe him, the Conejo Valley’s most ballyhooed QB prospect of all time is making his NFL dreams a reality
By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM—During his time at Oaks Christian, from 2003-06, Jimmy Clausen led the Lions to four CIF-Southern Section titles and a state championship and broke the California high school record with 146 career touchdown tosses. He was undefeated as a starter at Oaks Christian. JANN HENDRY/Acorn File Photo KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM—During his time at Oaks Christian, from 2003-06, Jimmy Clausen led the Lions to four CIF-Southern Section titles and a state championship and broke the California high school record with 146 career touchdown tosses. He was undefeated as a starter at Oaks Christian. JANN HENDRY/Acorn File Photo The Clausen family huddled together in the living room of their Thousand Oaks home on April 25, 2004.

Day 2 of the NFL Draft rolled along and Casey Clausen, who enjoyed a decorated four-year college football career at Tennessee, sat anxiously on the couch.

The phone rang seemingly every few minutes.

The Tennessee Titans called. The Carolina Panthers were on the other end. The Kansas City Chiefs offered an update.

Then, St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz called, promising to select Clausen, a quarterback, with the 201st pick in the sixth round if he was still on the board.

With St. Louis on the clock, the Rams chose . . . Jeff Smoker of Michigan State.

A quarterback, but a different quarterback.

“We were numb,” said Jim Clausen, Casey’s father. “We were absolutely numb.”

The seventh and final round came and went, and the Madison Square Garden crowd dissipated into the streets of New York City.

Casey Clausen’s name was never announced, and the phone stopped ringing.

Tears started flowing. Nobody knew what to say, so they didn’t say anything.

Finally, Casey turned to his youngest brother, Jimmy.

“This will never happen to you,” he said to his brother. “I promise you, this will never happen to you.”

Jimmy understood.

Valued commodity

Today, Casey Clausen’s words ring true.

Jimmy Clausen, Oaks Christian School graduate and former star quarterback for the University of Notre Dame, will likely be selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

It will be a reaffirmation of the hard work, success and focus Clausen has put into the game of football.

But today isn’t just about Clausen, the most heralded football prospect to hail from these parts.

It’s about his coaches, teachers, teammates, family and opponents. It’s about everyone who’s had a part molding him, Jim Clausen said.

“All I ever wanted was for my kids to make the high school football team and experience playing high school athletics,” the father said. “The rest of the stuff is so far out there that it wasn’t even conceivable for my kids to ever get an opportunity to experience college athletics.

“Jimmy’s on the verge of an opportunity that very few kids get. . . . We’re very blessed and we’re extremely lucky. I don’t think Jimmy ever gets these opportunities if it isn’t for Oaks Christian and the people at Oaks Christian that have mentored and helped my son. Nobody could have had a better experience in high school than Jimmy did.”

The Clausens will watch today’s first round in Palm Desert with Jimmy’s grandfather.

The quarterback declined an invitation to attend the draft in New York.

Clausen’s brother Rick, a former Louisiana State University and Tennessee quarterback, flew in this week from Nashville, Tenn.

Casey Clausen, now the offensive coordinator for Oaks Christian’s varsity football squad, will be there with sister Katie, another former Tennessee Volunteer who played volleyball and softball at OCHS.

Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for Scout.com, said Clausen will likely be a top-10 selection.

“I don’t think he goes below Buffalo at the nine spot,” Kennedy said. “I think he will be in that five-to-10 range.

“If everything goes right, he should make a great pro. He’s got a strong enough arm. He’s got good size and he’s coming out of a pro system. It’s all in place for him.”

When Jim and Cathy Clausen had dinner recently, their surreal life hit them.

“Gosh, is this really going to happen?” Jim Clausen said to his wife. “Is his name going to be called?”

Winning attitude

The Clausens moved to Thousand Oaks from Northridge in 2001.

Jimmy Clausen, who didn’t play tackle football until enrolling at Oaks Christian, attended Chaminade’s middle school in Chatsworth.

Katie Clausen attended Oaks Christian when the school still had classes in trailers.

Oaks Christian head coach Bill Redell remembered watching Jimmy Clausen, then in the eighth grade, chuck shots during halftime of Lion basketball games.

Redell never thought Clausen would wind up at OCHS.

After all, he was a prodigy, the third brother in a line of successful quarterbacks—Casey starred at Alemeny High while Rick spent his senior season at Taft.

Mentored by quarterback guru Steve Clarkson—who once called him the LeBron James’ of high school football—Clausen had the pedigree and talent to succeed.

But he had more than that.

“He had a real good work ethic,” said former Oaks Christian teammate Marshall Jones, now a safety at USC.

“Jimmy wanted everything to be perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but he wanted us to be best we could be. He didn’t play for himself. He wanted us to be the best we could be. That’s why I think we had great success—we worked really hard together.”

Redell said Clausen possesses a competitive fire.

“His talent speaks for itself,” the coach said. “He’s a very coachable kid and he’s a very competitive kid. He’s very much of a team leader. He expected his teammates to have the same commitment to football as he had.”

Former Oaks Christian teammate Chris Owusu, a star wide receiver and kick returner for Stanford, said the Lions were attracted to the signal-caller’s charismatic personality.

“He was a fun character to be around,” said Owusu, who will watch the draft intently for Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart, a potential early-round pick.

“Jimmy liked having fun and winning football games. We played off his energy.”

During his time at Oaks Christian, Clausen won all 42 of his starts, four CIF-Southern Section championships and a 2006 state crown.

Owusu’s fondest memory playing with Clausen was the 27-20 overtime win against Cardinal Newman in the state title game.

“That’s my most vivid memory of Jimmy,” Owusu said. “The game didn’t go as well as we had planned. We were blowing teams out, and we weren’t used to close games. But we saw Jimmy’s leadership explode at that point.

“He was the person who took it upon himself to make plays. Maybe it wasn’t with his arm, but he made a couple of runs for first downs. He helped us win that game with his arm and feet and leadership ability.”

Peoples’ perceptions

Although nobody questions Clausen’s accurate arm, playmaking skills and talent, controversy still hounds the 22-yearold quarterback.

Jim Clausen addressed the issue without being prompted.

“Just having people question who you are as a person that don’t really know you—I don’t know where that comes from,” Jim Clausen said. “The kid’s worked for everything he’s ever gotten, whether it’s getting up at 7 in the morning to work out with a speed coach for an hour and a half and then lift weights for two hours and then throw at night.

“This kid has put in so much time and effort to do everything he possibly could. A lot of the time people, for a lot of different reasons, have perceptions of different people they see. They see Jimmy’s passion and his exuberance, and they say the kid’s cocky. He’s arrogant. He’s all about me. That’s not him.”

Clausen sought the challenge of playing at Notre Dame.

“Don’t think for one second that he didn’t want to go to USC with Marc Tyler and Marshall Jones and play for Pete Carroll. Jimmy grew up being a Trojan fan,” Jim Clausen said of his youngest son.

“He made a business decision to play for Notre Dame and Charlie Weis. It wasn’t easy leaving roughly midway through his senior year of high school and try to replicate what it’s going to be like as a rookie in the NFL.”

Redell also defended his former star.

“It seems like in today’s society, the more successful you are, many people want to bring you down,” he said.

“He’s a very confident player. Sometimes confidence can be misconstrued for arrogance. He’s not. He’s a very confident player who plays to win.”

Clausen was held back in the sixth grade and was at least a year older than many of the players he competed against in high school.

The quarterback’s age and the success of his Lion teams were just a few reasons Clausen became a target for opposing fans.

“The other thing was the scores we put on people. They felt like we were running up scores,” Redell said.

“Jimmy threw 146 touchdown passes, and he probably didn’t play in the second half of half the games. If Jimmy Clausen played the whole time, he’d set records that would never be broken.”

Opponents respected the quarterback’s on-field prowess.

Former Grace Brethren head coach Terry Gourley, who lost to a Clausen-led Oaks Christian team twice in 2005—including in a section championship—said the quarterback’s best attribute is his “complete field awareness.”

Grace Brethren, with multiple college-bound players on its defensive line, sacked Clausen once in four meetings.

“He wasn’t too happy about that one,” said Gourley, who coaches quarterbacks at the College of the Canyons.

“What we tried to do with him is put pressure up the middle,” Gourley said. “He liked to stand and survey the field and do what he could best, which was a lot, because his release was so awesome.”

Gourley believes Clausen will enjoy a solid professional career.

“He’s a lot stronger than people think he is,” the coach said. “He somehow got the reputation that he wasn’t physically strong or durable. He proved that wrong in college.

“He deserves to be a first-round NFL draft choice. . . . He had to constantly prove himself. He’s a great quarterback, and I think he’s going to have an awesome career in the NFL.”

Former Oak Park coach Dick Billingsley, who coached the Eagles for 30 years, watched Clausen improve each year at Oaks Christian.

“By his senior year, it wasn’t even close,” Billingsley said. “He just dominated us.”

He isn’t the best quarterback Billingsley saw in his 40 years of coaching, however.

“I’d have to say John Elway was a little bit better than Jimmy,” said Billingsley, who coached the Hall of Famer during a Shrine all-star game in the summer of 1979.

Life in South Bend

Clausen matured during his time at Notre Dame.

He had a rough freshman campaign, when he was literally thrown into the fire, getting sacked 34 times. But he developed into a can’t-miss stud.

“He really grew into his leadership role his last season,” said Bob Wieneke, who covers the Irish Sports Report for the South Bend Tribune.

“Playing through an injury, he gained even more respect in the locker room.”

Wieneke said Clausen also opened up more to the media by his junior year.

After posting a 16-18 record as a starter, Clausen’s legacy at Notre Dame never matched the hype. With 60 career touchdown tosses, however, the quarterback established himself as one of the program’s premier passing threats.

“Numbers-wise, he’s certainly right up there,” Wieneke said. “People point back to his won-loss record. You can’t argue with that— it wasn’t great. He didn’t win as many games as he wanted, but the numbers he put up spoke a lot.”

Clausen wanted to do more for the Irish.

“He felt a certain responsibility to the families and school to turn that thing around,” Jim Clausen said.

Friends and foes say Clausen will thrive in the NFL.

“I think he’s going to have a successful career,” Jones said.

“He’s probably going to be one of the best quarterbacks ever to come out of Notre Dame.”

Jim Clausen will be happy just to hear the name “Jimmy Clausen” announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell, whether he’s the No. 1 overall pick or Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick of the draft.

“Nothing’s for sure in this life,” Jim Clausen said. “This is going to be a special day. It’s a dream come true. Just as long as his name’s called, we’re going to be absolutely elated.” 

Draft day facts

 

The first round of the NFL Draft takes place tonight in New York beginning at 4:30 p.m. local time. Television coverage is being handled by ESPN and NFL Network.

Oaks Christian graduate Jimmy Clausen is expected to be one of the first quarterbacks selected.

Here’s a closer look at Clausen’s career statistics from his four years with Oaks Christian and three seasons at Notre Dame:
 

High school
630 completions
937 attempts
10,764 passing yards
146 touchdown passes
42-0 record as a starter
Four CIF-SS title rings
 

College
695 completions
1,110 attempts
8,148 passing yards
60 touchdown passes
27 interceptions
79 times sacked
16-18 record as a starter
One bowl game victory
 

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